I have never outgrown my delight in smelling coffee brewing first thing in the morning. Especially during my morning contemplative time. Wherever I am, at home or traveling, there is something about that earthy aroma that makes me pause while a smile spreads across my face, like warm syrup over a pancake.
As I breathe it in my brain is flooded with all sorts of memories: early mornings getting ready for school, sunrise camping at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a loved one holding a mug with steam gently rising while I snuggle in my blanket, the early evening streets of Istanbul. The images and sensations are never-ending and the fragrance brings the whole world into me.
This particular morning, it brought so many delicious images to life through the simple aroma, that I found myself wandering into “god stuff.” Then I remembered I had given up God for Lent. What was I doing? I had no business going into this territory!! But it’s tough to not go into God when that’s your job! Interesting dilemma.
Now, because I had given up God for Lent, I had to release any notions of the divine. I had made this commitment for Lent to notice my own beliefs and practices, and especially to notice my own attachments. Where was I unconscious about my theology, practices and feelings? Had I gotten complacent in any way? And of course the question that is the elephant in the room – what if there is no God, what would that look like? How would that feel? I have no doubt that our understanding of God is in part man-made, and certainly we have evolved our understanding and experiences. Matisse said, “I don’t know if I believe in God or not. . . . But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.”
So my Easter journey has been just that, putting myself in a frame of mind that is close to prayer, which means communion, but not framed in the usual way with God at the center, or part of the communion. And in doing so for the last 40 days, I have more clearly seen that in ceasing to cling to any special idea or manifestation of God, I became more acutely aware of divinity everywhere. Which is interesting when my whole goal has been giving up God for Lent!
As Holy Week approached, I knew I would be speaking at a church in Houston on Palm Sunday, and a church in Flagstaff on Easter, so there was no escaping trying to do Sunday sermons during the most holy days of the year for the Christian world – HAVING GIVEN UP GOD FOR LENT!! Seriously? How in the world can you do that? How do you have Easter without God? Easter has been the bedrock of this religious foundation for millennia!
Ironically, it’s not as hard as you might think.
My attention had been so focused on our humanity and connecting with life, not God, of seeing those hurting, marginalized, lost, struggling, yearning for connection and meaning, that God kinda went out the window, so to speak – and oddly it wasn’t hard to have God “go out the window.” We generally look at Easter through the lens of our own personal crucifixions and resurrections and individual transformation, but I was seeing it elsewhere with greater clarity. I have long held the belief that Easter is not a solitary journey, that we need each other. As I looked at the historical events of Holy Week it became even more crystal clear that the crucifixion and resurrection are an invitation for us to understand suffering as ongoing, manifesting as racism, sexism, and a host of other “isms.”
The events of Holy Week show us the very real complexity of our humanity. From Palm Sunday through Easter, we see treachery, bigotry, oppression, power “over,” and injustice living in our hearts right next to compassion, joy, belonging, power “with,” and commitment. We can destroy or uplift all life, that is what Holy Week and this Lenten season had highlighted for me. NEWSFLASH: Jesus didn’t die for our sins, he died because of our capacity for anger, fear, hatred, intolerance and injustice.
And it’s not like I didn’t know it before, it just has taken on new meaning for me, especially when it comes to the question, “Ok, so you’ve known this, you’ve seen this, now what?” The “now what” is about my commitment to action, to make sure someone is not “dying” because of my capacity for indifference, fear or small mindedness. That’s what Easter is all about for us, that’s what we are invited into committing to.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” This is my Easter message, this is my commitment, this is my awakening as a result of giving up God for Lent.
What is my“now what?” To engage in “power with” – meaning power with each other, power with my voice, power with my wisdom, power with compassion, and power to stand against injustice, intolerance and inequality. The power of gentleness, earthiness, humor and the full measure of love – love that is not a feeling, but the desire to step into the darkness of humanity, the ordinary lives, where the we can best shine our lights, die a little bit, in order to experience the extraordinary.