During the season of Lent, we're having mid-week services here at our place. A potluck supper in the Fellowship Hall, followed by brief times of quiet contemplation in the Sanctuary.
Last week, the church member in charge of the sound system popped in a CD during supper. It was instrumental recordings of pop tunes, old and new. Not exactly "church" music (which can be a good thing), and it certainly added groovy vibe to the gathering. Somewhere along the way, as people moved from supper to service, the CD changed from Top 40 faves to Taize chants. But as I walking into the sanctuary, that change had not yet occured.
So, as I walked into the darkened room, lights dimmed for calming and quieting, candles flickering for focus and feeling, I heard the opening strains of, "To All the Girls I've Loved Before." It was an instrumental version, but in my mind, I could hear Willie Nelson crooning. It struck me as funny. So I commented to the bulletin-passer-outer, "Hey, listen, it's that great Lenten hymn...'To All the Girls I've Loved Before.'" We giggled the irreverent giggles of those confronted with blending of "sacred" and "profane."
A few minutes later, the CD faded into French chanting of "holy" words or some such churchy sounds. But for six days now, Willie's words have been wandering through my mind. "To all the girls I've loved before..." And I think there's a Lenten lesson in that tune.
The shorthand understanding of Lent is that it is about giving up, chopping off, coming to a screaching halt with some horribe "sin" such as eating chocolate or drinking beer. For forty days, people give up cussing or desserts and pretend that they have in some way sacrified for the faith.
"To All the Girls I've Loved Before" offers a different take. The song seems whistful. The singer (Willie or the other dozens of folks who've recorded it) seem to remember fondly past "sins," some of which you get the impression the singer really misses, others of which the singer is glad to be shed of, and still some you think the singer would hop into bed with right away if possible, even though they were wrong or dangerous or damning.
So, what if, "To All the Girls of I've Loved Before," became the official song of Lent? What if, instead of chopping off some past "sin" (which modern Lent seems to encourage indulging in again just as soon as the Easter Bunny pops out of the tomb), we, instead, embrace who we are, who we've been, what we've done, where we're going? What if we took Lent as a time -- not to give up -- but to gaze upon: to gaze upon who we really are, to gaze upon who we might become? What if Lent were the time to try to know ourselves "even as we shall be known," to quote to the old apostle.
"I am a part of all I have met," Tennyson wrote.
"No man is an island," John Donne said.
"I am an unclean man," Isaiah said, "and I have seen God."
"The good, the bad and the ugly," we say. "Warts and all."
"To all the girls I've loved before," sings Willie over the loud speakers in our Lenten minds.
To be aware, truly aware, of who we are, what we've done, who we might become. Lent does not call us to radical discontinuity, so much as to clear vision of life as it is. That is the whistfulness of Lent.
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