March 2, 2013 10:37:19 PM
We are once again in the season of Lent -- a somber six weeks, which is observed by many Christians, between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday. According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, this time commemorates the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert. There he fasted, had a run-in with the devil, and emerged a changed man. Or, you might say, a carpenter went into the desert and the son of God came out.
We mere mortals make an effort to emulate Jesus by giving up some earthly pleasures. Somehow, we just do not see much change when Easter weekend finally arrives. The end of Lent usually means that, since we may have denied ourselves candy or cigarettes, we now ravenously crave chocolate bunnies and Cadbury eggs, or perhaps nicotine. Somehow, the ability to inspire the masses or heal the afflicted just never kicks in. Why not? Maybe it is due to the fact that we manage to avoid that meeting with the devil. Oh, well. He is probably a bit busy these days, what with raging wars, epidemics, Internet porn and high fructose corn syrup. Evidently, he cannot be in too many places at the same time.
I am not sure if suffering and denial of the sensual really contributes to character-building. Quite the opposite; the exclusion of things we love often only produces a more intense desire for them. Does that make us better? Or, does it simply make us cranky and resentful?
"According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, Mississippi has a poverty rate of 22.6 percent" (CNN Money); 36.5 percent in Columbus; 25.7 percent in Clay County; 32.0 percent in Oktibbeha (indexmundi.com). Sadly, our state always leads in these embarrassing statistics.
Do the poor think, "Boy, am I lucky to be blessed with this great misery. Pain certainly makes me so very much stronger?" Probably not. More likely, they dream about how much better life would be with health and dental care, nutritious food and a comfortable home.
Modern Lent may be time to rethink depriving ourselves for no good reason, and to refocus our energy on generosity. Start with ourselves. Let's be generous, not only with chocolate, but with praise and celebration of our assets and abilities. When we are full and satisfied, then spread that kindness around.
Maybe we could give up negative thoughts, about ourselves and about others. It is so easy to condemn welfare recipients and the unemployed. However, most people's personal stories are far too complex to be stuck in a category with a judgmental label. I am not suggesting that you walk a mile in their raggedy shoes. (God forbid!) Only that we try to understand what put them in this place, what keeps them there, and how can they escape the anguish of a hopeless situation. This seems like a better use of our time and determination. A positive awareness, instead of negative criticism might be a way to reinvent Lent.
My message today is -- go out and eat as much chocolate as you wish, but spread that sweetness around, especially in kind thoughts and compassionate comments about the huge number of poor who are contained in our sometimes tarnished triangle.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina. Email reaches her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.