Only (re) Connect
Frank was a great character. Although, when I first began working with him, I found him hard to understand due to his thick Irish accent. He had been in the U.K. for some thirty or more years, starting as a trench digger and labourer before somehow finding his way into the catering business, but his Irish brogue was as thick as ever. He could curse with the best, smoked nearly 30 fags a day and was full of wit and charm. I also remember that every Lent Frank would amaze us all by simply stopping smoking until the end of Easter Sunday. Having been a smoker myself I’ve never worked out how Frank managed this feat every year – or why he started smoking again once Lent was over!
I must admit that at the time, Frank’s outward compliance seemed to me to be a classic example of ‘Religion’ – an outward show that, judging by the fruit of his language the rest of the year, had little to do with a compliant spirit. Into this broad category of ‘Religion’ I also placed Icons and Liturgy but especially events in the ‘Religious Calendar.’ ‘Surely,’ I argued, ‘if something is true of God it is true all the time and not only at ‘special’ seasons or times in the year.’ All these views no doubt made me very particular about how I discussed my faith. If somebody commented that I was ‘religious’ I would be at great pains to correct them – ‘no, I am not religious but I am a Christian.’ To me the two seemed to be very distinct and separate spheres of operation.
(And if you are getting the impression that I was a bit of a pain to be around, I find myself sadly agreeing with you!)
You may be surprised to find then, that today I am marking the beginning of Lent by giving up something from my daily life. What has caused me to change my mind about events such as this in the religious calendar. Have I gone all ‘Religious’? What are all these dates and festivals for? Is there any value in marking the year in this way?
Two points of view have conspired to bring me to the point where, until Easter Sunday has passed I will be abstaining from looking at, or interacting with, the message medium of Facebook. The first challenge to my point of view came about through a casual conversation with a friend. To be honest I cannot remember what the actual topic of conversation was, but it involved discussing how we were doing in our spiritual walk with God. Then she said, “It’s all about being re-connected to God, which is what ‘religion’ means, isn’t it?” For a moment I thought I would have to take her to task on the difference between outward show and inward faith but fortunately my friend continued, “You know, ‘re’ meaning ‘again’ and ‘ligion’ coming from the word for ‘ligament’…a sort of literal re-connecting of a broken joint or injury.”
Our conversation went on to something else but for many days and weeks afterwards I kept coming back to the phrase she had used – ‘re-connected.’ As I slowly began to accept that this interpretation of ‘Religion’ was indeed one that involved faith and an inward response, I began to find that I was viewing many of my old prejudices – for that is what they were – in a new light. I suddenly found in the whole concept of the ‘religious calendar’, for example, a new and inspiring way to think about the year. Each date issues an invitation to become re-connected to my Father in heaven.
Secondly and perhaps more subtly, as I have grown older I have begun to place much more value on memories and associations. In our bedroom my wife and I have hung a large, colourful, original painting by a Cuban artist. It is a street scene, with the ubiquitous battered Chevrolet parked alongside a slightly faded stucco doorway. The colours and composition are really striking but the thing that I love most about the picture is that we purchased it while we were in Cuba some years ago.
Every time I look at the picture it makes me smile – even if it’s one of those silent internal smiles – because it carries with it so many associations of the exciting and interesting time that we spent there. In fact, you could say that every time I look at the picture I ‘re-connect’ with our holiday. But perhaps most importantly, the picture makes me wonder where we will travel next and what we will find there.
The same could be true for many of us when we look at pictures and photographs of places we know. Obviously those photographs or pictures are no real substitute for the actual events or even the people that we are remembering. But they are a way of keeping them with us. A way of returning or re-visiting them in our hearts and minds. When I was younger so much of my life appeared to be about to take place or to be far off on the horizon. As I have grown older I am coming to realise that, although much still remains to be discovered, there are many things that now need to be remembered; many things that should not be taken for granted, or forgotten. These things should be cherished and treasured. And, because our memories and experiences can be so easily pushed aside by the trials of everyday life, we need to find ways of re-connecting with the important things on a regular basis.
So it doesn’t matter if it is a photograph or a picture, an item of furniture, a piece of music or even clothing – what matters is that such objects give us reminders and opportunities to think again about truths that we might otherwise forget. In the Church Calendar there are many such moments where, using a mixture of stories and symbols, we are called to remind ourselves of the important things in life.
Whenever I reach for my computer to check the latest activity on Facebook I am hoping I will be reminded that the peace I am seeking in my heart does not rely upon how many ‘likes’ or ‘friend requests’ I receive. At this time of year Lent helps Christians re-connect with the truth that their peace was purchased through the suffering, and ultimately the death, of God himself.