“O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (The Book of Common Prayer, the collect for the Second Sunday in Lent).
On Sunday I wearily entered the church, doing the usual motions like dipping my fingers in the holy water and making the sign of the cross. I even managed to bow right into the priest’s stomach when I bowed in front of the altar. I was not looking and was still trying to get the hang of the cane I am having to walk with now even though I’m only 34. I was embarrassed about using the damn thing and was worried about being judged for it. I was exhausted because I’d sat in two different emergency rooms for over twelve hours and followed an ambulance with my child in it three hours north in the middle of the night to another hospital over the weekend.
The service had barely begun when the Holy Spirit made her presence known. I was tired and really just wanted her to go away but evidently that wasn’t going to happen. We had barely gotten half-way through the opening prayer, the collect I quoted above, when she brought to my mind a very specific incident which to preserve the privacy of the other parties, I will not go into. It was a situation which had been fully and entirely my fault. I had not been kind and I had not been compassionate, in fact I had been mean. On purpose.
For the last four months at least, I have been claiming that my compassion meter is broken, and have honestly even mocked some of the problems of others, because I’m a bitch and I can be mean. I used the excuse that I had so much going on in my own life, my severely disabled ten year old was placed in an institutional setting and I was grieving for having “lost” him even though he is still alive. He’s three hours away in another city. My oldest son has been severely mentally ill. I am having some medical issues that are still being diagnosed. I’m a single mom raising four kids. So I just used my own problems as an excuse to not give a damn about anyone else’s, because I was grieving, and busy.
The problem with this is that I made promises at my confirmation which so far I have been about as good at keep those as the promises I made on my wedding day but to be fair confirmation isn’t a lesbian marrying a man in an effort to be straight and that’s just the beginning. One of the promises I made at confirmation (I have been baptized three times but never had a baptismal covenant but the covenant still applies to me as a baptized Christian and one who has been confirmed) is: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Which, after being asked that question by the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, I replied: “I will, with God’s help.”
God’s help has been there, but I have not been making use of it. During Lent (which just happens to be my favorite season of the church year probably partly because I’m very introspective) I had decided to work on something in particular, but on Sunday the Holy Spirit threw the fact that I had not been kind or compassionate in my face. It was time to deal with it, there and then.
As I knelt to pray the general confession of sin with my brothers and sisters in Christ, tears came to my eyes when I said: “we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent.” The confession of sin done, I bowed my head, still kneeling, making the sign of the cross as the priest pronounced absolution on behalf of God. The Holy Spirit had shown up, I had listened to her, I had repented, and God had forgiven me. All in just under and hour. As I walked slowly to the altar with my cane to partake of the Eucharist, I quietly thanked God for bringing me to repentance.
This is what Lent is about. It’s not about fasting or giving stuff up necessarily, although those are great spiritual disciplines for Lent. Lent, for me, is about evaluating my relationship with God, what I need to work on. It’s a penitential season and it’s a necessary part of the church year. Lent is supposed to bring us to repentance, although repentance is certainly not limited to Lent. Because during Lent, we repent, and on Easter Sunday, we revel in and celebrate that Jesus is alive, that there was a resurrection, the very foundation of our faith.
I want to end this with an apology. I have had several people make comments to me about how I have been unkind to them or dismissive of their problems. If I have hurt you in any way through my callousness, please contact me so that I can make it right personally as best I can. Please forgive my meanness and my lack of compassion. But if you can’t forgive it, I understand that too.