Naming What Is

Updated: Apr 1

This is my Ash Wednesday reflection from March 2, 2022

1st Biblical Witness Ecclesiastes 2:9 – 25

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. 

So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly; for what can the one do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. Then I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness. Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them.

Then I said to myself, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?” And I said to myself that this also is vanity. For there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How can the wise die just like fools? So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me — and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish?

Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it.

This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from God who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

2nd Biblical Witness The Gospel Of Luke 22:35 – 38

Jesus said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” The disciples said, “No, not a thing.” Jesus said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”

Reflection “Naming What Is”

I don’t want to set up Lent as a time when we suck the fun out of life entirely. I do want to set it up as a time when we don’t run away to avoid the hard stuff of life. Let me balance that out by saying, I love having fun. Enjoying life is important. It’s a form of resistance and honestly, it is just plain good stuff. When we don’t allow ourselves to have joy or to have fun out of guilt because there are so many people suffering – which there are so many people suffering – but if we strip ourselves of the good of life, it also strips us of our strength to do advocacy, to make meaningful connections, and even to love at a core level.

So, what am I saying? Basically, that life isn’t just one thing. The writer of Ecclesiastes is sharing their revelation that life isn’t fair. Any one of us could have probably told them that, but this person, presumably a king in Israel, has a ton of privilege and didn’t have to think about too many difficult everyday things. And you’ll notice that the majority of their angst is based on the idea that all their hard work might end up going to someone they consider less than themselves.

They end up realizing that focusing on all this mental and emotional rumination is a waste of time and the best thing to do is live life and enjoy as much of it as you can. Taking all that with the grain of salt that they are coming from a place of privilege – of power and money – what can we get out of this?

For me, the whole of Ecclesiastes reminds me that there is no perfect. I can lay down my lofty expectations of myself and others which might disappoint me … or make me anxious or short-tempered. Or depressed. There is no perfect. All of us, in our humanity, are susceptible to time and chance (which is also talked about in Ecclesiastes). We can’t control life. We’ve learned that especially so in the last couple years.

Not only that though, but people are also uncontrollable. Nature is uncontrollable. We can do what we have in our hands to do. We have limits. Those limits are actually filled with grace and mercy. Without them, we might dry up. Or even worse, we might try to do everything ourselves and not let anyone else contribute.

This is not a call to give up doing what you can, but to do what you can the best that you can and then, know that you’ve done it. Know that you have fought for justice. Know that you have extended mercy. Know that you have engaged in your community the best way you could.

Lent is a time to reflect on all that we’ve done; what we’re disappointed in and what we rejoice in. To see where we’ve failed. To accept where we’ve succeeded. During this 40 day meditation we experience our finitude – in other words, the way we are finite in nature. We have beginnings and endings. Season by season. Year by year. Life by life.

How then should one practice this Lenten Journey? What should you “give up?” Jesus had a conversation with his disciples about this in the Gospel of Luke. He reminds them that once he sent them out to proclaim the good news and told them to bring nothing with them other than what was on their backs. Nothing extra. Give it all up. He asks them – when I asked you to do that, what did you experience? Did you lack anything? They all agree that it went well. If I was a disciple, at this point I would expect Jesus to say – well, we’re doing it again! Get ready by not getting ready because you’re just going to go out there with nothing. Give it all up again. You’ll be okay.

But he doesn’t. He tells them that this time, it’s different. Now they have to be prepared. They’re gonna need some stuff. Their context had changed. Their situation was different. They needed to respond differently.

Take a moment and think about your context. Your situation. What’s different? What’s the same? It might be that the comfort of a well-known Lent is exactly what you need because everything else is topsy-turvey. Or maybe you need to approach Lent differently this year.

The writer of Ecclesiastes named their concerns. Their sorrows. It seems like they spiraled down pretty far into despair before coming to terms with the realities that life has twists and turns that you can’t avoid and can’t control. And that at the same time, life holds goodness and possibilities.

Mardis Gras is over. Fat Tuesday has come and gone. Now we reflect. It’s time for us to name what is in our lives. Our concerns. Our goals. In what ways can we rest and feel satisfied that we have done our best? Where do we need to put more energy? In what ways might we have failed? Not to beat ourselves up about it but to name it and to give ourselves the opportunity to do better.

Name what’s going on in your life. Name it inside yourself, or if you want to, find someone to name it with. You are welcome to come to me if you want a listening partner or a conversation partner.

This is the beginning of our Lenten Journey. Toward the end of it we experience Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. But the goal … the goal is Easter. We aren’t rushing to Easter, to the resurrection. But let’s keep in mind that the goal is life. The goal is re-creation out of this period of meditation. How do you want to journey toward a renewed sense of self, sloughing off the old and the tired? Replacing the worn out with something different and more pliable. Don’t be afraid to name what you need to name so you know what direction you want to go.

Let these notions be the guide to your spiritual practice this Lent.

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