We are deep into Lent, entering the heart of understanding of who we are, who we are meant to be. We have traveled beyond the ashen cross on our foreheads that marked us as Christ’s own. We have moved into disciplines of reading, prayer, abstinence, and charity. Now, having celebrated the Third Sunday in Lent, we pause and take stock. We judge our hearts and our lives. We re-commend, re-commit, re-create ourselves to travel even deeper into the heart of God.
Being marked with the cross helps us follow the path to Easter and resurrection. We do indeed need this sacramental help. We need to immerse ourselves in the daily office, in the appointed psalms and epistles and gospels read for over two thousand years. We join Christians around the world as they too follow this Lenten path, they too read, mark, and inwardly digest the Word of God as they write it upon their hearts.
We sacrifice our time (our precious hours allotted, our numbered days) to keep our rules as best we can, which is to say, at least for me, not very well. But God knows our hearts, both the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. He knows, and like a good father, leads us along, taking our hand in his, tenderly aware of our frailty.
The Gospel appointed for the Third Sunday in Lent is about Jesus casting out a demon, one that made the man dumb, unable to speak. We too live with this demon inside us, devouring our thoughts (making us truly dumb) and silencing our voices. We see our culture move away from God, yet we do not change our ways. We are mute, we want peace, we want to include everyone, and never offend.
St. Mark in Sunday’s Gospel records Christ saying, “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” How true today as it was then, for demons scatter, confuse, and derange. Our culture is scattered, confused, and in many places deranged.
St. Paul in Sunday’s Epistle gathers and lists precepts to form a way of living, defining a moral code as he lists temptations of body and soul. “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth; proving what is acceptable to the Lord.” Yes, the path is clear, it is one that gathers righteousness and, in the gathering up, must choose.
All choice requires judgment, but our choices and judgments are inevitably influenced by the culture we breathe. God in Christ steps into that culture, in history and today, offering his own sculpting of our souls. He was, after all, the modeler of the clay that formed us, giving us life as he breathed upon us so long ago in Eden. He loves us, his own creation, his treasured created beings who were modeled in his image to reason and create just as he did and does. He wants us to come back to him, to come home. So in his time on earth in that eastern Roman province he showed us our way home, how to choose, how to judge amid the myriad of choices. He showed us what is good and what is bad, what fruits we should eat and what fruits we should not eat, if we want to become who we are meant to be in all eternity.
All creation is about judgment, including and excluding. When I write a sentence I am actively choosing, including, excluding, judging words and tone and sound and syntax, even beauty. Some might disagree with my choices. This is their choice. I might not make the choices that others make, but I must allow them to choose, to create their own lives and grow their own souls. It is this allowance, this respect for others’ choices that the revolutionary and unique Judeo-Christian tradition upholds. This is the freedom God has revealed to each one of us; this is love.
The creation of a poem or painting or symphony have been, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, a reflection of the beauty, truth, and goodness of God revealed to us. As belief in our God of Abraham receded in the last century, so too has the beauty, truth, and goodness of our culture faded. As Anglican philosopher Roger Scruton writes, today’s culture is one of “repudiation.” The atonality of music repudiates tonality, creating noisy chaos; deconstructionism in literature repudiates literary forms; artist-signed urinals and soup cans displayed as art repudiate the classic requirements of sculpture; paint thrown on a canvas repudiates the learned skills of figure drawing and observation of nature. Indeed, all these modern forms repudiate the boundaries of the disciplined art form, and in this sense join the cultural repudiation of all authority seen in other areas of society.
In Culture Counts Mr. Scruton writes, “the new curriculum in the humanities, which is relativist in favor of transgression and absolutist against authority… presents an obstacle to cultural renewal… there is such a thing as the critical study of works of art and literature… that transits a legacy of moral knowledge.”
We must judge where we want to go, as individuals, as a nation, as a world. We cannot be all inclusive, for total inclusivity means chaos and anarchy, inviting totalitarian rulers. We must follow the path that has made the Anglosphere great and free. We must applaud those who have made this choice in arts and letters, and not those who choose repudiation and chaos. Particularly those in power, those with influence, and those with talent and intelligence in academia – the elites of our culture – have a grave responsibility to protect us all by supporting that which supports freedom.
In this way we will imbue our culture with Lenten discipline. We will mark an ashen cross upon every work and every endeavor, whether belief is there or not. We will support the ideals of love that Christ and his Church gives us year after year as we wave our palms at the gates of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, partake of the first Eucharist in the upper room on Maundy Thursday, watch and wait at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, and rise with him on Easter morning. These are choices we must make, we want to make, we choose to make to ensure a world that is good, beautiful, and true.