Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

23 February, 2012

Kyrie Eleison

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.

We’ve entered Lent. Yesterday, members of churches more civilised than my own smeared ash on their foreheads, as a reminder of humility and a sign of penitence. We’re 45 days away from Easter, though the shops here started selling Easter candy last week. That little quote up there obviously doesn’t sum up Christian teachings on what a human is, but it is the focus of this particular season of the year – admitting fault, finding flaws, and making reparations.

Fasting during Lent isn’t widely practised these days, and I honestly don’t think that matters all that much. Fasting just for the sake of fasting won’t get you very far, I think. We’ve replaced abstaining from meat with giving up a luxury, in these parts of the world, and even that is probably not too widespread. While that, too, won’t really get you very far, I think there is a value in going without something you don’t really need, and making yourself realise how needless it really is. One of my former professors, a Hindu, told me she used to give up something new for Lent every year, to gradually pare down her dependence on non-essential distractions. I usually give up sweets, and maybe once of these years it’ll actually stick once Easter arrives.

Giving up luxuries isn’t really the point of Lent, though. It is about penitence. Penitence isn’t really something we Christians like to talk about any more –  it carries connotations of fire and brimstone and angry clergy threatening Hell and damnation; it just sounds dour and grey and oppressive, but it really shouldn’t. Penitence isn’t a bad thing, and it shouldn’t cause depression and existential dread.

Christians are sometimes perceived to be smug and superior bastards, insufferably arrogant twats looking down on the rest of the world. Sometimes that perception might be accurate. But that’s not they way it really is.  The best a Christian can hope to be is a penitent sinner, to steal a phrase from a vicar friend of mine (Don’t worry, I’ll be penitent for it later). Humans aren’t perfect, we make mistakes every day, and we don’t stop making them just because we’re religious. What Christ offered was forgiveness for errors, not inerrancy.

There is a prayer, and it is the easiest prayer to pray in the world. So many, many times I find myself using it. It has nothing to do with penitence. It comes from a parable, and can be found in Luke, chapter 18, verses 11-12. A Pharisee and a tax collector have come to the temple, and the Pharisee prays it aloud. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” It’s a prayer of judgement, of seeing the mistakes in others and ignoring them in ourselves, and becoming insufferably arrogant twats.

Penitence is about admitting the mistakes we’ve made, sins in the parlance, and then accepting forgiveness. Lent is the season leading up to Easter, when the central event of our religion is commemorated. Before the grand miracle of forgiveness, we have a period of penitence, where we get to use that other prayer, the hard one, the tax collector’s prayer, which gives so much comfort.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Powered by WordPress