The darkened sanctuary was still, very quiet, yet inviting to this late night traveler.
“I’ll just drop the music off and head home,” I thought. But the opportunity to spend time alone with God was before me, so I put aside one need for another.
The candle flame next to the tabernacle flickered behind the scarlet glass, a beacon for all travelers to stop for a moment and find some comfort.
Kneeling, resting, thinking, breathing, sorting through the day’s events one more time before they fall out of my mind, shoved behind the door marked “Tomorrow,” today’s room is still open and waiting to welcome the divine.
But before I converse with Our Lord, my thoughts go to preparations for Lent. What should I do? What should I give up? How should my wife and I remind our teenagers about the season? What will my co-workers say about my ashes? Do I have to explain meatless Fridays again?
Wait, stop, quiet, be at peace with the words of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. In green pastures he gives me repose, beside still waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.”
Resolve to live the lyrics of Anyway (written by Martina McBride, Brad Warren and Brett Warren, sung by McBride): “God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good. And when I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should, but I do it anyway.”
Believe the words of The Change (written by Tony Arata and Wayne Tester, sung by Garth Brooks): “One hand reaches out and pulls a lost soul from harm while a thousand more go unspoken for … And I hear them saying you’ll never change things and no matter what you do it’s still the same thing. But it’s not the world that I am changing. I do this so this world will know that it will not change me.”
Peace, quiet, stillness.
Images appear in my mind, pictures from Pay it Forward, a film starring Haley Joel Osment, Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, in which a small boy forever changes the lives of his family and community. Challenged by his teacher to not only think of something that would change the world but to also put it into action, young Trevor comes up with a simple idea: instead of paying someone back for a good deed, pay it forward.
He tells his classmates that each of us is the first point of a social network of good will. We should each do something good for three people. Instead of paying us back, each of those three people should look forward and do something good for three more people. The multiplication of good deeds to others will build a true city of God among us.
During Lent, we should pray and reflect on our place in this network of goodwill.
Soaring over the red roofed buildings of a small French town, scenes appear from the film Chocolat. Starring Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench and Johnny Depp, the townspeople and spirit of a small town is renewed by the smells and tastes in the new chocolate shop.
It would be superficial to peg this film as contradictory to the Lenten lessons of fasting and sacrifice. Since chocolate is often a common treat given up during Lent, one could easily equate each bite to a rebuke of the church’s teachings.
But when the mayor of the town spreads cruel rumors about the shop owner, rewrites the priest’s homilies to match his “superior” beliefs on self sacrifice, and mobilizes the town against the temptations and immorality of the chocolate shop, we realize there are indeed deeper meanings involved.
For many years, the townspeople feared outsiders, discriminated against the infirmed and ignored injustices by their neighbors. But by the end of the film, with the last breaths of the clever North wind of change, the people and town breathe in a new spirit of living.
As the young priest exhorts in his Easter homily, “We can’t go around and measure our goodness by what we don’t do, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create and who we include.”
The pictures stop, quiet returns to my meditations, I’m alone again in the sanctuary, waiting for God to arrive and spend some time with me.
But then I realize he has been here the whole time, speaking to me through music and films, touching my heart and refreshing my soul.
Lord, you are the potter, I am the clay. Though I am a sinner, I trust in your mercy and love. Do not consider what I truly deserve, but grant me your forgiveness.
For Lent is here, a time to reflect, examine, discover, abstain, embrace, create and include.
More time is needed, a return trip is necessary, another session looking inside, where I will find you, again.
First published in the February 23, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© Christopher Fenoglio