It's Holy Week, that time of the year when we pause and consider the last days of Jesus. That time when we remember the story of his last supper, his arrest, his trial, his death. Sometimes we not only remember, but we even re-enact portions of that week--at least in our own limited ways. We gather for Holy Suppers and share the cup and loaf and hear the words he is said to have uttered on that night. Strange words. Haunting words. "This is my body, this is my blood."
In some cultures we literally pick up crosses and carry them through the streets--a modern Via Dolorosa, if you will. My mother tells me that in her little southeastern Kentucky village they drag a cross through the streets to the town square, where the county courthouse stands.
For Christians, it is the holiest week of the year. But in a pluralistic culture like ours, things don't come to a crashing halt simply becuase it is Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. Years ago, the governor of New Hampshire tried to fly the flag at half-mast on Good Friday. He was ordered to stop doing so. And that was right. Church and state must be kept separate to protect both.
Still, I always feel things hsould just come to a halt so that we can focus our attention on the unfolding story that begins on Palm Sunday. But no, life goes on as usual. Banks make loans. Mail gets delivered. Shops sell their goods. Divorces get finalized. The dead get buried. Lovers get married. Laws get passed that limit the rights of women in North Dakota. Cases get argued before the Supreme Court that may expand the rights of gay men and lesbian women. Basketball teams win and lose. Life goes on.
And maybe that's as it should be. After all, things didn't come to a crashing halt in Jerusalem just because of a special supper in an upper room. Pilate didn't take a holiday because he tried a rather odd prisoner. Soldiers didn't delay hanging up those deemed to be traitors to Rome on crude crosses at the edge of town. Deserters deserted. Betrayers betrayed. Deniers denied. Women followed and wept. Life went on. Even in the face of death.
Maybe what we need to learn is that every week is a holy week. Maybe what we need to understand is the simple reality that in the comings and goings of every day, every minute, lies the hope for resurrection.
Perhaps you have heard the story of how the new Pope chose his name. As it became clear in the conclave that he was going to be elected, his good friend Card Claudio Hummes, gave him a hug and said, "Don't forget the poor." That lead to his thinking about Francis of Assisi--and so he chose to become Francis I.
What some reports have missed, however, is the fact that his choosing the name had to do with more than his commitment to the poor (an extremely important commitment) and his commitment to peace (an equally important commitment), but also due to Francis of Assisi's commitment to the earth! "Francis," said the new Pope, "was a man of peace, who loved and and protected creation. In our times, our relationship to Creation is not that good, right?" (www.asisnews.com)
It remains to be seen if this means that the new Pope will follow through on any of these commitments himself, though his track record, at least in terms of the poor, seems to suggest he will. But how intriguing that we might have a Pope committed to environmental protection!
The original Francis is credited with writing the beautiful "Canticle to the Sun", which speaks of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. It also offers thanks to God for Sister Water, described as "useful, humble, precious and pure," and Sister Earth, "who sustains us." Francis of Assisi understood that we live in an interdependant world, and protecting creation is essential to the well-being of humanity. Might Pope Francis I be informed by such a spirit! Might he truly reflect the environmental concerns of his namesake.
I saw two disturbing news stories this morning. One was about penguins dying off in Antartica because of global warming. It seems their primary food source is krill--little shrimp-like critters in the ocean--and their numbers are decreasing, leading to difficulties for the penguins.
The other story was much more local--it had to do with the red tide off the Gulf coast of Florida that has resulted in the deaths of an almost record number of manatees. It seems they develop respitory problems which can be lethal when they eat the algae that is responsible for red tide. I didn't know they were impacted by it, but I do know our beaches have been littered with dead fisah this inter, and that many humans have respitory issues when ever the red tide is "in bloom". Apparently, global warming, especially the rise in ocean temperatures, is part of the cause of red tide--as are the various ways we humans pollute the waters.
I hate to see penguins and manatees dying. But maybe their deaths will help drive home the point that we need to address these environmental issues in a much more comprehensive manner. Manatees are adorble. Penguins are cute. Maybe seeing them die in such large numbers will pull at the heart strings in such a manner as to stir us to action.
I had the good fortune to spend much of my childhood living in a small town on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Our little resort community of 10,000 people swelled to 100,000 in the summer months. My friends and I all worked in the shops and restaurants along the beach. After work we enjoyed the summer pleasures of swimming and walking the boardwalk.
Over time, however, I grew to appreciate the other seasons even more. Without the distractions of the honky-tonk arcades, cotton candy stands and so on, the beach in the fall, winter and spring returned to a much more natural state. I loved walking the quiet sands of October. I was entranced by the tidal pools of April. But most of all, I was thrilled by the power of the sea, the crashing waves, the roaring of the wind every time a winter nor'easter would blow through. As odd as it may sound, my favorite time to be down at the beach was during a storm in the middle of January. Of course I was safely settled on land--protected from the ocean's wrath by a three foot thick sea wall. Occasionally at high tide, waves would crash over the top, casting small rocks and salt water onto Ocean Boulevard, by my own life was never threatened.
Sometimes I would see a ship on the horizon, or a lobster boat close in. The small boats would pitch and toss all about. I sometimes wondered why the lobster men even bothered on such days. I worried they'd get thrown overboard. Their very lives were at stake. But still they went out on their daily journey, even in stormy weather. For them it was not just a way of life, it was life.
When we're honest about it that's how it always works when we are on a voyage, for every journey has its risks. Whenever we put out to seas, there is the possibility of a storm. The brightest day can grow cloudy. The smallest breeze can turn into a gale. We can choose to just stay in port. We can be so frightened, so worried, that we refuse to budge. Or we can take the risks.
I'm glad for those years along the North Atlantic. They taught me much not just about the ocean, but more importantly, life itself.