Third Wednesday of Lent
It is said by anthropologists that in our lifetime we are experiencing the sixth great extinction of species, the last having occurred 65 million years ago when something – perhaps an object colliding with earth – resulted in the end of the dinosaurs. This current extinction, however, is being caused not by a cataclysmic event but by one particular species being concerned only with itself. We have met this species — and it is us.
Nobel Prize winning scientist Paul Crutzen of the Netherlands has described this era as “anthropocene” – for the first time in the life of our planet, all of life is influenced by only one species – humankind. We scurry about in a frenzy not unlike a disturbed ant hill – reacting and over-reacting when our own needs are threatened, consuming everything in our paths as we march toward “progress,” discarding carelessly what does not benefit us. We are two-year-olds at a birthday party, hyped up on sugar and racing around from place to place.
Wise parents know what to do with frenzied two-year-olds: “Stop!” “Sit down,” we say, “take a time out.”
God, our wise father, knows that. “Stop,” he tells us in the fourth commandment. “Rest on the Sabbath day.” But God’s admonition to rest does not mean stop for a few hours and then get back to it. How many of us, if we do take a break on Sunday, use the time to plan out our calendar for the coming week?
There is plenty of evidence that the word “rest” used in the Sabbath commands found in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:15 means much more than resting from labor. Rather the word “rest” in early Israelite thinking was more akin to “settle down.”
The ark that Noah has built floats on the water, and settles down on the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4). God leads his people into the Promised Land and declares that his presence will cause them to settle down there (Exodus 33:14). The people will settle down and no longer fear their enemies (Deuteronomy 25:19).
The image is one of cessation from wandering, finding a sweet spot and resting (settling down) there. No longer will the Israelites be a nomadic people; they will settle in their own land. God will supply all their needs and they will be safe from their enemies. They will settle down under God’s providence and protection.
There is a sense of cessation and completion to the Old Testament notion of rest/settling down. On the seventh day of creation, God ceased working and rested. His creation was complete, it was good — in fact it was perfect. Couldn’t be improved upon. (And yet, we try . . .)
The question for us this Lent is: what it is that we long to be free from? What do we need to call a halt to so that we can be aware of God’s presence? In Lenten terms, from what shall we fast so that we can settle down with God?
Maybe it’s time to give up our rampant consumerism: A young man came to Jesus and asked what he must do to gain eternal life. “How do you read the scriptures?” asked Christ. “Love God and your neighbor,” replied the man. “Right,” said Jesus. “Now sell everything you have and think about someone other than yourself.” And the man went away sad, because he had a lot of possessions (Matthew 19:16-22).
Maybe it’s time to let go of an old grievance: A younger brother took his inheritance and squandered it on loose living while the older brother stayed home and took care of the family business. Eventually the young rascal came home, asking for forgiveness, which his father readily and happily gave him. But the older brother pouted, “You never threw a party for me” (Luke 15:11-31).
Maybe it’s time to cease our divisions along political lines, gender differences, skin color, ethnicities, or number of degrees behind our names. A Pharisee stood praying, thankful he was not like “that other one” ( Luke 18:9-14).
Maybe we need to recognize – and do something about – the huge amount of time we focus on ourselves rather than on our planet, our neighbors, our God who so longs to spend time with us. If Paul Crutzen, as well as that other Paul, is correct, all of creation is dependent upon us (see Romans 8:20-22).
Spiritual discipline for the third week of Lent: read again the preceding four paragraphs and put yourself into them. Where might you need to cease from rampant consumerism, old grievances, divisions, mirror-gazing, so that you can settle down with God?
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.