We in the church have entered the season of Lent, which invites Christians to focus on the Way of Jesus, personal repentance, and spiritual practices that bring us into closer relationship with God. It’s a somber season, but can also be joyful in a quiet way. It begins each year with Ash Wednesday, the day when foreheads are marked with ashes and spirits quieted with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” With that reminder of our own mortality, many of us feel free to let go of our need to control everything, and simply turn the unfolding of our lives more fully over to God. This is not to say that we’re invited to be passive – not at all! – but rather that we are offered the chance to cling less tightly to particular outcomes and place our trust in the fact that God works for good and that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice even when that justice seems to be a long time in coming. For me, at least, the reminder that I will in fact die is what helps me to live more boldly, if that makes any sense at all.
This year, the beginning of Lent coincided with the horrible carnage of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and hearts all over the country broke wide open. The massacre has re-ignited the raging battle over our nation’s relationship with weapons, to be sure, and has caused me to think about what that Lenten promise of my own mortality has to teach me in this situation.
What I find so liberating about Lent is that it offers me a release from fear. I do have very real fears when it comes to the combination of a rising tide of unfettered rage in our national debates on so many topics and the prevalence and availability of weapons of mass destruction; that’s as scary as anything I can think of. But when I remember that I am dust, and that, come what may, I will in fact return to dust, I can feel myself growing into the recognition that I have nothing to be afraid of. The worst a gun can do, after all, is kill me. I love my life and have no desire to lose it, but there’s liberation in not clinging to it too closely all the same.
Honestly, I wish I could give that sense of freedom to the people I know who claim to feel safer because they are armed to the teeth, because the truth is that if they could lean into the Lenten promise of their own mortality, I think they’d be less afraid. They claim to feel stronger, safer, bolder with the support of weaponry, but I think their focus on self-protection betrays a deep-seated fear that is controlling their mind. Unfortunately, as we saw in Florida and very nearly saw in Fair Haven, Vermont the very same week, it’s so often the innocents who pay the price for the fear that masquerades as righteous anger and strength.
Our church does not have an official stance on gun control, but we do follow Jesus, who we know had and still has a preferential love for the vulnerable and an abhorrence for violence. Furthermore, we study and hold dear the words of the scriptures, in which God’s angelic messengers begin nearly every human interaction with “Be not afraid.” I think it’s safe to say that letting go of fear and walking boldly with those who love courageously is part of the Lenten call.
Several years ago, Tom Griffith introduced me to the Phil Ochs song “When I’m Gone.” I love this verse in particular:
Won’t see the golden of the sun when I’m gone
And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I’m gone
Can’t be singing louder than the guns while I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.
And may we all know deep peace as we walk the Lenten path with Jesus.
In a spirit of hope and faith,