Mary Marrocco: Lent is an opportunity to go beyond the noise

  • March 9, 2018

What’s the best way to wake a sleeper? Throw cold water? Tickle the feet or play loud music?

No. The most effective method is to quietly speak the person’s name. If you’ve ever been in bed with a fever, you know that a comforting voice, or a practical voice, can keep you from floating away on an ocean of pain. The power of every voice is an echo of the power of The Voice. Frequently, God comes as a voice, as to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:4), to witnesses at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17) and to Paul en route to Damascus (Acts 9:4).

A voice I commonly hear these days is the one that says: “Sorry, I can’t help you.” It’s today’s refrain, spoken nicely, on the lips of officials, workers, colleagues and the well-intentioned of all kinds, in response to queries and requests for assistance or information. God never says this, anywhere in the Scriptures. Still, we would be inclined to recognize it as God’s voice. It’s what we expect from Him and why we frequently go about life as if we’re on our own down here.

This may be why we rely on “experts” and “science” and “evidence-based methods” in support of the illusion that we’re in control. Still, do we really have answers to the urgent questions? We have ways of “dealing with issues” from the rise of anxiety and depression, to the explosion of substance-use and sex trafficking, yet such difficulties resist our expert efforts and grow rather than diminish. As our society strives to become more and more efficient, increasingly nobody’s there — in stores, in social-service agencies, even in locked churches. Nobody can help anybody, it seems. Again, we’re on our own.

Are we living the effects of our society’s increasing alienation from God? Like a bomb that sends everything hurtling in different directions, competing social theories are proclaimed and applied with dogmatic confidence, sending people running all over the place. If we lose the moral ground that only God can give, we’re opened up to everything, under the face of niceness.

Observing all this, we might be inclined to take refuge somewhere. The refuge places are getting smaller, however, and the price of hiding is rising. We run the risk of being arrested for thinking in the vicinity of an abortion clinic, or speaking to a pharmacist about the mechanism of the morning-after pill, or excluding death-dealing measures even in life-affirming places like hospices. As is often the case, it’s the very young and the very old who feel the effects first.  “Sorry — can’t help you.”

Is it time for prophetic action? Can we follow courageous leaders like the bishop who challenged his diocese to raise $35,000? (This, in replacement of the federal grants not available this year to any organization that won’t agree to make an ideological attestation as a condition for funding.) Can we, like him, listen to the signs of the times, when few seem able to listen or offer real remedies to urgent problems?

Lent is given us by the Church to wake us up. Not to wake us up to becoming nicer or following rules better. Not to “sorry, I can’t help you.” It wakes us up to each other. To paying attention when someone is speaking. To not ignoring the person behind or ahead of you in queue. To teaching children without hardening or terrifying them. To love like this, in the flesh, we need solid ground to stand on. Lent asks us to set our feet on it once again.

Still, not all action is prophetic. When a disciple takes action at the Garden of Gethsemane, cutting off a soldier’s ear, Jesus rebukes him: “Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mt 26:52). We can imagine the disciple’s dismay; what, then, can we do? But if we put down our weapons, we can start walking the cross with Christ.

How can we hear? How can we act? As food to strengthen our ears and equip us for action, the season of Lent offers desert, silence and beauty. Lent can help us go beyond the noise and false promises, and to listen. It helps us hear the “still, small voice,” as Elijah did after walking without food for 40 days to the mountain of God (1 Kings 19). It helps us speak the word of God, as Jesus spoke to Satan after 40 days without food in the desert (Mark 1). If what we’ve heard or said is “sorry, I can’t help you,” then we must go back and listen again, for this is not the voice of God.

Will we recognize God’s voice nonetheless? Jesus says we can (John 10:27). Our hearts say we will.

The signs of the times say we must listen, we must put down our swords, and go up to the mountain of God.

(Marrocco can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca)

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