Things were pretty much a red-hot mess at the beginning of Mass yesterday morning.
We kinda knew it was coming, we ‘daily Mass regulars’…because the day before, our pastor had begun the liturgy with an observation and a challenge. ‘Lent is a season of change,’ he said. ‘So tomorrow, why don’t you all think about sitting in a different pew?’
We laughed nervously, we regulars. But we knew that on some level Father was serious, too. So sure enough, on Friday morning, nobody was in the ‘usual’ place. We’d all taken up different positions in the congregation, seated alongside different pew partners.
My own choice was typically over-the-top: Moving up to the second row…about 10 or 12 rows forward of where I usually sit, but also in a whole ‘nother bank of pews to the far right side of the sanctuary.
It was change, alright. Thoroughly disorienting change. So much so that I found myself meditating as much on the new view I had obtained…and the relative effectiveness of the sound system in that sector of church…as I did on the readings or homily. (Whaddya know…you can see a few trees from over here…) And after Mass, it was all we regulars could talk about – who was sitting where, with whom, whether we should stay in the new spot for the rest of Lent, etc. etc. etc.)
Which got me thinking: Change for its own sake may not always be that helpful.
Later in the day, I had the chance to hear the Mass readings again – as recorded on the British Jesuit Pray-As-You-Go website. It turned out that the first reading in particular was pretty much focused on the whole notion of changing our ‘holiness’ habits. Isaiah takes the faithful to task for merely going through the motions—and one phrase in particular caught my attention in the British version of the passage:
Is such the fast that I choose? Is it to bow down the head like a bullrush?
In the American translation of that passage, we don’t hear the word ‘bullrush’. We hear ‘reed’ – its generic synonym. But the richness of the British term offered a delicious contrast, evoking in me the image of actual bulls – snorting and rushing and butting heads in a frenetic barnyard display, designed to establish their dominance.
I was reminded of just how often I have headed into Lent with just that same sort of bullheaded energy and intent: To change things up—not just a little, but a LOT—in my life. To add a laundry list of new practices and deprivations, with an eye toward proving just how strong I am…how capable I can be in rooting out the evil influences in my life.
It’s not a bad instinct, I guess. But it’s rarely fruitful in the end. I wind up biting off more than I can chew…and by the end of these forty days…I often feel more frustrated than renewed. Disappointed, again, by my weakness…and the sinful patterns in my life.
But yesterday’s experiences got me thinking: What if ‘bullrush’ is not such a good Lenten strategy after all?
What if, instead of moving up 10 or 12 pews…I moved up just one or two?
One of the suggestions we heard in Friday’s reading from Isaiah, for example, is really pretty simple – but it could make a big difference in the way I live. To wit: ‘not to hide yourself from your own kin.’
So how about that as a starting point for personal change this Lent: To work on patience and generosity, when I encounter (the often unexpected) needs and demands of those who are closest to me.
Something tells me my family members and friends would be pleased (and perhaps blessed) if–with God’s grace–I do manage to adopt that particular new point-of-view.
Let us pause now…to remember that we are in the presence of the Holy One.