A few somewhat muddled thoughts on religion and church as Lent winds down:
It’s been a fascinating Lent, which started, of course, with Ash Wednesday. We went to the service at church, which in included the solemn, sobering ash ritual. I’d never gotten ashes before, and hadn’t even known Protestant churches did that. Like everything else lately, it was a learning experience.
Pastor Dave put together a great Lenten series of sermons and discussions entitled “Lives of the Disciples.” His idea is that, rather than just the 12 disciples we commonly think of as being at the Last Supper, the meal would have probably have included a number of friends and family members, bringing the total to about 23 people. Over the course of the season, he examined each of the 23 in great detail, bringing them to life for our examination, 20 centuries later. The culmination of the series was the Maundy Thursday dinner, in which actors from the church performed a skit, which he wrote, portraying the 23 acted out their preparations for the meal.
During the Wednesday-evening discussions that led up to this week, the minister also shared dozens of artistic depictions of the Last Supper, many of them parodies of the classic Da Vinci mural. Like this one, for example. Many more are here.
If we are to believe Monty Python, the Pope didn’t like the idea of having more than 12 disciples. I’m not sure we CAN believe them, though, because they thought it was Michelangelo who painted the Last Supper, not Da Vinci. In any case, here’s their take:
On a more serious note, it’s been kind of a weird time for organized religion lately. I guess partly because it’s Lent, and partly because I’m paying more attention now than I did in previous years, it seems that there is a lot of questioning of the meaning of religious faith in the news and on the Internet in recent weeks.
Andrew Sullivan wrote about the “Crisis of Christianity” in a Newsweek cover essay this week. In it, he argues for a true separation between our religious lives and our political lives.
What does it matter how strictly you proclaim your belief in various doctrines if you do not live as these doctrines demand? What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself? If we return to what Jesus actually asked us to do and to be—rather than the unknowable intricacies of what we believe he was—he actually emerges more powerfully and more purely.
It’s a great essay, well worth a read.
One event that really shocked me was the recent episode in Gaithersburg, Md., in which a priest denied communion to a woman because she was a lesbian—and the denial occurred at her mother’s funeral. I can’t think of a more humiliating experience, and a worse setting for it to happen. I understand the priest was later suspended, but I haven’t heard more about it since then.
I contrast that episode with my experience at my own mother’s funeral, an absolutely 180-degree opposite from what that woman had to deal with. In retrospect, I realize that I was probably a lot more fragile and vulnerable than I imagined. Fortunately, unlike the Gaithersburg woman’s experience, I got a brilliant sermon from a compassionate and decidedly non-judgemental minister, the first step in a process that resulted in my rejoining the church several months later, rejoining after 35 years in the wilderness, so to speak.
By the way, I don’t regret those 35 years, but I am very very happy to be a part of the church now. I’m still definitely in the process of sorting things out, trying to come upon a better understanding of what God is or isn’t … or maybe I should say IF God is or isn’t.
But for me, at this point in my life, the distinction isn’t critical. This is what I know: when I step into church, the feeling of peacefulness and optimism is almost palpable. During a worship service or even during a Wednesday-night discussion, I am completely rapt; it’s a time when I’m more focused than at any other time in my ADD-addled life. I take part in prayers, even though I don’t really have a target for my praying. It just feels right. And the feeling of peacefulness extends for the rest of the day after I’ve been to church. There’s never a bad Sunday.
At some point, perhaps I’ll figure it all out. But for now, I’m enjoying the ride.