It would be a peculiar religion, in my view, if its followers never encountered something akin to 'sin' and 'sacrifice' on the path toward the light. Obviously, not all religions share the same vocabulary, and the faiths that do talk about 'sin' and 'sacrifice' like to interpret these terms in various ways.
Nonetheless, I venture to say that you can take the following statement to the bank (or maybe hide it in your mattress): All who follow a religious path make many mistakes and hard choices along the way.
For me, Lent brings this common ground among diverse religious paths into sharper focus:
"Remember than you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
In this brief reminder, Lent says I am not in control and makes my attempts to gain control - through banks or mattresses or whatever - look, at best, embarrassingly frivolous.
Being bookended by dust is a matter of fact that, supposedly, should make us wise in matters of faith. But this is true only if we learn to sacrifice, to not cling so desperately to the "stuff" we love between the bookends. In my case, wisdom seems to be coming slowly. I'm more likely to respond to my mortality with fear, than with a willingness to let go.
That is why for Lent I want to sacrifice my fears. I probably shouldn't have waited until Lent to do so, but I think if I can sacrifice my fears - and they would make quite a list - then maybe I might stumble less and make better time along the path.
A recent CNN poll said I am not the only one who is fearful. According to the poll, 73 percent of Americans "say they're very or somewhat scared about the way things are going in the United States."
Addressing Congress on Fat Tuesday (plenty of irony there), President Barack Obama declared that the "day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here. ... Given these realities, everyone in this chamber - Democrats and Republicans - will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities."
To the fearful, say "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Talking about a "day of reckoning" is fearful talk, but focusing on fear in fearful times has a respectable history. In 1933, FDR immortalized the very word as he called for its sacrifice in his First Inaugural Address, declaring "The Only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."
The right paths are never the paths of least resistance. Not only religions, but nations, too, must grapple with their own forms of sin and sacrifice as they make their way toward the light.
If Lent is to be something positive for me this year, something more than a nagging reminder of how selfish I can be in the face of death, then I need to let go of fear. I need to sacrifice the fear of being misunderstood, disliked or, even worse, being ignored. I want to sacrifice my fear of the economy, work and war. Basically, I want the courage to sacrifice every fear that wrecks my trust in the God of dust. I just want to keep following Jesus in the way.
This Lent, with God's help, I will stay on the path. When fear blocks my way, I will, with God's help, step beyond the fearful habits of heart that fill me with excuses for not living, but starve me of life itself.
All pilgrims need companions in the way, and I am thankful for many. With others, travelers can more easily catch one another when someone stumbles and offer compassion to one another when someone needs to let go. And when a band of pilgrims stops for the evening, they can wash the dust off one another's feet and strengthen one another with stories of a baptism yet to come.
Jessy Perry is the pastor at Northern Light United Church.
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