REFLECTION FOR ASH
By Joan Chittister, osb
Jesus' words make short shrift of public wrestling with inner goodness. "When you give alms, keep it a secret. When you pray, do it quietly. When you fast, don't look wan." The religion of Jesus, in other words, is not a religion of show. It is not a religion aimed at public approval. It is not even religion intent on the kind of pious exercise that is called witness. No, Jesus' words make Lent a way of life, rather than a ritual.
The message of Lent is clear: Alms are for self-giving; prayer is for personal growth in the mind of God; fasting is for self-discipline. What you get out of this kind of religion is not simply a change of liturgical cycles. What you get out of this kind of religion is a change of person. But when the person is changed then other actions will show it, and not all of them will be called "religious" by establishment types....
I don't know how many UUs celebrate Lent and Ash Wednesday, but as a former Roman Catholic, I do. I suspect there are many UUs with a Christian background who also celebrate Lent especially those with more affinity for the Universalist side of the family. The Universalists believed fervently that God is love. The lenten practices are intended to make us more aware so that we will choose the good rather than continue to be distracted by the dramas and ego nonsense of every day life. We give alms and help others because it makes us and them feel good. We pray most often to give thanks because we are grateful and acknowledge the interdependent web of which we are a part. We fast because it alters our consciousness and makes us more alert and we learn to tolerate minor suffering with good cheer.
Jesus constantly reminded us that we are not of this world. He said to be IN the world but not OF the world. The Buddha talk us that the way to peace and to avoid suffering is not to become attached and to recognize the impermanence of life.
The overall message of lent is to remind us to love one another as we Universalists believe God loves us.