Tomorrow is the first day of Lent, a time of year when many Christians all over the world spend time in reflection, prayer, confession and self-denial. All this as preparation for our commemoration of Christ’s Passion on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Many also recognize the beginning of Lent by attending a special service during which they receive the imposition of ashes on their foreheads along with prayers like, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return…” Thus the inaugural day of Lent is called “Ash” Wednesday.
Lent arrives this year at a particularly appropriate time in our country’s contentious political landscape as conversations “high” and “low”, “right” and “left” ring with demonization, condescension and finger-pointing.
It’s literally time for each of us to look to ourselves and the “plank” in our own eye, as Jesus admonished us to do. May we all do so, and along the way may we take to heart these words of the late poet-priest John O’Donohue:
“For Love in a Time of Conflict”
When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Toward the gateway to spring.
(From O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us)
On that hopeful note, here are my latest recommendations for your consideration — this month they include books, movies, and some online articles:
- Biography — Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father by Steven W. Hackel — In my opinion, popular American history often overlooks the contributions or even the presence of Hispanics, which is why the story of Junipero Serra caught me eye. Born financially poor on Spanish Mallorca, he became a Franciscan priest and in the mid-1700s traveled to America where he almost single-handedly extended Spanish dominion into California, founding missions in present-day San Diego, Los Angeles, Monterey, and San Francisco.
- Current Events & Culture — Rez Life: An Indian’s Journal Through Reservation Life by David Treuer — Novelist Treuer traces a chapter of the Native American story that, despite recent headlines concerning the Standing Rock Reservation in the Dakotas, often goes untold.
- Faith & Science — The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution and the Power of Love by Ilia Delio — Strange and wonderful ideas sometimes result when strange and wonderful things combine, like when a Franciscan sister/doctor of pharmacology writes about the confluence between faith and science.
- Theology — The Cross and The Lynching Tree by James H. Cone — A probing examination of two of the most iconic symbols in African-American history by one of America’s leading theologians.
- Feature Film — Hacksaw Ridge — This 2016 movie is based on the true story of WWII U.S. Army medic Desmond Doss, who saved dozens of men during the Battle of Okinawa and became the only pacifist to ever win the Medal of Honor. Hacksaw Ridge just won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing.
- Documentary — 13th — Another Academy Award-nominated film, “13th” refers to the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and examines the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration.
- “From the Archives” — “North and South” — I stumbled across some YouTube clips of this 1980s-era TV miniseries about the U.S. Civil War era, and quickly got hooked. (I remember watching the originals, which makes me feel old.) But I digress. “North and South” is based on a trilogy of novels by John Jakes. I’ve honestly enjoyed re-watching it, and have invited my boys to watch it with me (with occasional fast-forwards). Yes, the cinematography is dated, the acting is stilted in spots, and it occasionally caricatures history figures and events, but it’s a good story held together by the friendship of West Point cadets Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) of South Carolina, and George Hazard (James Read) of Pennsylvania.