|From Outrage to Compassion:
A Proposed Lenten Journey
"Anger that leads to right action might well be a prerequisite for the spiritual life in our age." Sara Jolena Wolcott
Around the turn of the new year, one of my Facebook friends asked folks to post their "Word for 2020." There were lots of inspiring posts, like "thankfulness" and "merriment" and "fulfilled" and "ardent," and some funny ones like "again?" and "git 'er done" and "schwifty," but the only word that came to my mind and stuck was "outrage". Outrage. I was then, and am now, feeling such anger at all the injustice I see in the world, that "outrage" was the only word I could feel in my heart. So, I thought I had better live with that reality for a while and see what I could do with that feeling in this new year. How could I do something constructive with all that rage and despair?
As luck would have it, this pilgrimage I am on for EPF had taken Steven and me through Albuquerque, NM, last spring, where we made a stop at Fr. Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation. There, I picked up a copy of the publication "Oneing: An Alternative Orthodoxy, Vol. 6 No. 1" which focuses on anger. As an Enneagram 1, self-righteous anger is my sin of default. Finding this collection of essays on how to turn my anger into something holy and useful was providence.
Among the essays in the Anger issue of "Oneing" is an inverview with Sara Jolena Wolcott, whose quote opens this blog. "Anger that leads to right action might well be a prerequisite for the spiritual life in our age." How comforting to know that my outrage could be a door to spiritual transformation! I commend the Anger issue, especially the Wolcott essay, as help for you if you share in my outrage at the state of things.
So, my plan for Lent is to be quite intentional about feeling my indignant rage and then using it to try to do something about what I am so overwrought about.
In the way that these things seem to always happen, I was astonished when, during worship at St. Andrew's-Irvine last Sunday, Vicar Rev. Peter Browning held up a copy of Rev. Mary Bea Sullivan's "Living the Way of Love: A 40-day Devotional," which St. Andrew's is providing for all members of their congregation (and visitors) to read and use as a Lenten discipline. Mary Bea is a priest in the Diocese of Alabama, an associate rector at St. Luke's-Birmingham, and she and I were Cursillo Pilgrims together in 2015. I knew her devotional book to be a profound support for living a Jesus-centered life, a life which compels us to side with the oppressed and the marginalized.
I'll be using Mary Bea's book as a tool for Lenten reflection, and I'll be modifying another Lenten practice of mine: I always read the Lenten Meditations collected by my home parish of St. Andrew's-Birmingham each day during Lent, then I write and mail the author (almost always members of St. Andrew's, or former clergy or someone otherwise deeply connected to us) a personal note to tell them what their offering meant to me, and how I will use their wisdom on my Lenten path. This year, I'll use each meditation as a launching point to write political and religious leaders about some issue on which I wish to urge their compassionate action. I'll be taking a play from the playbook of EPF chapters like the "Peace Post" at Church of the Transfiguration, in Dallas, and Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, which empower church members to advocate for "right action" all year long by giving them compelling talking points and the names and addresses of elected leadership to whom petitions should be address. I am imagining letters to Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, asking her to stay an execution or two (ye gads!); writing Mitch McConnell to ask him to do something about gun violence; writing to Andrew Wheeler, the head of the EPA, to do something about the climate crisis (maybe a thank you note to Greta Thunberg); writing any and all presidential candidates to ask them to examine their positions on Palestine, and to ask them to do more to promote peace and justice (in concrete ways) in the decades old conflict between the Palestinians and Israel; and writing to ask who knows who about God only knows what other fresh hell will manifest and need addressing during these forty days.
Finally, I want to share with you one inspiring idea for a Lenten study group which comes from our friends at St. Bede's in Santa Fe, NM. They are taking the "Contemporary Way of the Cross: A Liturgical Journey along the Palestinian Via Dolorosa" and meditating on the fourteen Stations of the Cross over a dozen or more in-person meetings, where they will read and reflect on the search for God in the midst of the oppression and torture being suffered by the Palestinians. I regret that I will be far enough away from Santa Fe that I cannot join them for these meetings, but EPF PIN education committee leader Kathy Christison has offered to share a written tutorial for us to use this resource in time for our own parishes for next year's Lent. Get your copy of "Contemporary Way of the Cross" here.
So, how about you? What will you take on (on put down) for Lent? If you take on "right action", let us know what you are up to, and how you are inspiring others to do likewise. If you put down something, especially something that has a cost attached to it, consider giving what you might have spent on your guilty pleasure to EPF. We promise to put the money to more "right action" on behalf of the children of God who live in the shadows, who are persecuted, marginalized, and abused.