“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting and weeping… Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is God….” (Joel 2:12-13a)
A traditional Ash Wednesday reading such as this from Joel can initially seem an unpleasant request or turn-off! With some self-reflection, we might sense something special here that each of us and all creation were made for that offers joyful, life-giving, loving results for us and for the world.
Within the heart of human relationship and of our sense of God beats a spirit and kindredness based on love, compassion, justice, openness, human rights/dignity, mutuality, equality, solidarity, reconciliation and more! God and the divine presence bless each of us with the love, capacity and gifts for this sacred, life-changing kindredness – amazing gifts indeed!
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described such kindredness in God as: “Togetherness of all beings in holy otherness” …where all people and all of creation are included! A sense of unity and presence in Christ equally conveys an understanding of sacred kindredness.
For the sake of this kindredness, whatever our faith tradition might be, God and the divine also asks something of us, of our hearts, of our consciousness, of our worldviews, of our decision-making, of our lifestyles – in other words, our whole selves. Since we have each other and God’s spirit within us, we can trust in not facing this divine request alone!
But how can we listen more closely to what God, kindredness, creation and our own hearts are asking of us? Perhaps we can take a little time this Lent – and throughout the year! – in peacefulness, silence and prayer, or just a mindful, appreciative seeing of the people, world and creation around us.
While “fasting”, “weeping”, and “rending our hearts” can sound intimidating, simply taking time for deeper listening or seeing can offer unintimidating forms of “fasting”. Any healthy, life-giving practice for ourselves or positive choice for the sake of others, for a greater good or for God will also do well! The more attuned our prayer, listening, seeing, practices or choices, we will likely feel more compassionate and moved by particular people and instances in the world around us, by awareness of a family member or friend who could use support, by our neighbors who are marginalized, excluded and alienated in society, by creation’s beauty (or its misuse), or by the possibility of (or challenges/obstacles to) our own gifts, growth and wholeness. These areas of awareness are natural, heartfelt forms of “weeping” and “rending our hearts” – which does not seem so intimidating after all!
When we hold creation, the world, others, our families, friends, people who are marginalized, and ourselves with kindredness and reverence, how could we not see, feel and act with greater appreciation and compassion! In appreciation and compassion, we pay closer attention to how any “weeping” might reflect immense gratitude and joy for all of life’s goodness; just as much as a lament for the conditions, disparities, injustices and woundedness faced by others, the oppressed, creation, and even ourselves. We might also “weep” when we become aware of any actions (or inaction) on our part – or of our community, culture, or country – that contribute to what impacts, hinders or diminishes our neighbor sisters and brothers or creation.
When we open our lives, our habits, our spirituality and our hearts to God, to our deeper selves, to others, to the marginalized and to creation – to sacred kindredness! – we “return to God with (our) whole hearts” that grow full and wonderfully expanded!
Notice that we are discussing Lent here without any urging to “give up” something! As our hearts and lives become more whole and expanded, we might instead discern this Lent and beyond how to give of ourselves – through our kindredness, capacity and generosity of spirit to love, grow and change, to act compassionately, decidedly and together for human rights and solidarity, for peace and reconciliation, for economic and racial justice, for equality and inclusion, for creation and sustainability – for anything and everything that uplifts and honors all people, all of creation and God! And we can act precisely through the self-offering of our unique giftedness, passions and community commitments (along with ongoing deeper listening, seeing, prayer, healthy practices and positive decision making) to empower and liberate the giftedness, passions, dignity and human rights of all others!
Jeff Campbell has served as Bellarmine Chapel’s Director of Social Mission since 2008, in support of the parish’s integration of faith, justice, outreach, solidarity and care for creation. Jeff has spent over 15 years in his vocation of full-time faith and justice ministry.