Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Where shall the word be found, where will the word / Resound?

Suffering as I do from an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the number of churches with which I have some affiliation or affection, I started this day undecided about where to observe Ash Wednesday, though I was inclined to attend the late-afternoon Episcopal service at the university or perhaps the evening service at the Episcopal church down the road.

Then on the way to work I powered up the old iPod to listen to the daily readings and was hit with (and troubled by) this verse:

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.

Joel 2:12-13

I heard it it as an admonition to go back to the Catholic church. Anyone not steeped in that peculiar Catholic blend of guilt, obligation, and joy at recognizing and acquiescing to divine leading wouldn't have heard it that way, I'm sure, but I couldn't help myself. I wrestled with it all the way to work.

Sometimes when I'm trying to make some decision I'll have a sudden and direct insight about what I should do, but later that idea won't seem so obvious and eventually I'll decide it was wrong. Then again, sometimes I'll have one of those same sudden and direct insights and it will stay with me until I give into it. I don't know how this one will turn out in the long run, but for today I gave in and went to the noontime Catholic Mass at the university chapel, which was not one of the services I'd even been considering.

Was it mountaintop? No, but it was nice enough. It was fairly well-attended, and one of the nicest things about it was the Gregorian chant provided by Schola Cantorum, a group of Princeton students. I'm glad I went, though I don't particularly want to go back tomorrow.

I don't "want" to go back at all, actually. I realized while thinking things over in the car that this is definitely not how I want all of this to turn out, though I'm trying to keep my mind and heart open to what God is saying to me. I think maybe that was the first time I had such a clear understanding about how I really feel, despite the lingering nostalgic longing I feel. I want to think that maybe the sad, sad events that unfolded in my former parish were God's way of telling me it would be all right to let go.

Anyway, still in the car, I was enjoying a podcast called "Catholic: Under the Hood." It noted that Ash Wednesday liturgies are some of the best attended of the year even though there's no obligation to attend. So you have all these people turning out just to have someone smear ashes on their forehead and announce that they're going to die, "which just goes to show that people always come if you give them something for free."

But seriously, I'm glad it's Lent. It might just be my favorite liturgical season, a little longer and a lot less hurried than Advent. It's never been a hard or unhappy time for me. It's a time for thinking about who I am, and working on becoming the person I want to be. It's a time for reaching closer to God.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word

T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday


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