“Change our minds this time.” I’m still humming this line from a Rory Cooney song we sang at the Ash Wednesday liturgy I attended. Did you know that to REPENT is literally to change our thoughts, our minds? The Greek word metanoia (μετάνοια) is a compound word that combines the concepts of time and change; literally after/with (meta) and to perceive/think (noeo). It says that we think differently after. After what? Hold that thought for a moment! I perceive a three part invitation in the words we hear when ashes are traced on foreheads this day: Repent and Believe the Good News!
First, meet and experience the Good News in a person, Jesus of Nazareth. (After what? This is the ‘what’ that the rest of the phrase is ‘after’. First comes meeting and experiencing the Good News!) Do you think this is too obvious? Can we presume this basic experience of evangelization is a given in every case? I mean, those of us standing in line to receive ashes have already heard and experienced this Good News, right? We are baptized believers, after all. We are disciples of Christ and members of the community which is formed by the mission of sharing this Good News forward. But sometimes there may be those among us who have not tasted this Good News personally – or who have not lately. Virginia Finn in a little book titled Pilgrim in the Parish noted that ministry done about God but without God was perhaps more frequent than we’d like to hope. Our ministries sometimes discuss if we have catechized before we have evangelized, which is why we speak of a need for an evangelizing catechesis. Our learning must always be in the context of encounter with the person of Jesus.
Perhaps as you and I begin Lent we need first to experience or recall how the Good News feels and tastes. What is Good about this news? Where is the joy, the hope, the peace, the companionship, the adventure, the energy, the life, the abundance? How does it speak to our fears, our deaths, our suffering, our failures? How does it energize our gifts, our passions, our core values, our life commitments?
Do our hearts need to hear a retelling of the Gospel stories, of God’s interactions over history with God’s people? We are fallible and forgetful, and we lose track of how much we have been freed and cared for. Perhaps the first invitation to you and to me is the re-encounter the Gospel, to reconnect with God in Christ, and to let our hearts and lives be touched.
How can that happen for you or me? Reading scripture? Going to a talk? You have to discern this. What will help you remember the fire that already burns, the grace already given, the love you already live within? Sometimes I’ll dwell with certain well loved encounters of Jesus with individuals in the Gospels and reflect on what was happening in that moment for that person or persons. I may re-read part of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, especially Aslan’s encounters with Lucy or Eustace or Edmund along the way. I might listen to certain music that teaches and tutors me – Sarah Hart or Eden’s Bridge, or many others. Or perhaps watch a clip from a movie, take a walk in nature, pray in a chapel or beneath the stars – look to connect with the freshness and challenge those at the time of Jesus encountered. I could well read a favorite (or new to me) companion-saint’s words and description of God or the Christian journey. But what I might do is of little consequence. What do you need in order to meet and experience the Good News? And what better gift can you give to God this season than the willingness and courage to simply meet? Like the Prodigal Father of Luke 15, God waits to embrace with generous grace. Perhaps this (unstated in the invocation for today) movement is the absolute essential for our Lenten journeys – for our Christian journeys.
Second, change our minds after re-meeting the Good News in Christ. The lyrics of that Rory Cooney song continue, “Change our minds this time, your life could make us free.” To repent is to change our minds, upon encountering the Good News. The life of Jesus can free us from other ways of perceiving life, lesser priorities, inaccurate judgements of ourselves or others or the world or history or the cosmos! And our minds, when they are “made up”, tend to dictate our actions.
Richard Rohr has mused that it’s interesting that the ashes are placed on our foreheads, wondering about the need for conversion and turning located there – in our thoughts and minds. Such changing after (metanoia) can only happen after. And so this step presumes needing to go back to the first – the meeting the Good News – over and over and over again. (Call it ongoing conversion, turning, evangelization… whatever the term, we need to go to it!) The action of memory, of anamnesis, is particularly important for we humans with short attention and life spans. Who is the God we met and meet? Who am I in that meeting? Who are we? What is this all about?
If it is our thinking and perceiving that needs changing, it may be that we need devices to help us remember. Symbols and images, sacraments and one line scripture verses, prayer cards and quotes, song lyrics and art pieces, reminders in nature or in our pockets – all of these may be helpful. Eucharist, our thanksgiving and our remembering, particularly can wake us up to what we already hold and have encountered in the reality of now. God knows our need to encounter over and over again the sacred mystery, and provides Real Presence to and with us, as we are taught with the Word.
Our minds can also be changed through practices we take up and try on and, perhaps in time, make part of our living. This has had some play in previous blog entries, and more options for planting practices will come in the next few days. Stay tuned.
Third, believe – which means to set your heart by – the Good News. As has been explored previously to believe means to literally set our hearts by (see Feb. 11th blog on Setting Our Hearts… For Lent, For Life). If we change our minds according to the encounter with the Good News, then this must not only be a change of perspective. It must be the truth we set our hearts, our priorities, our actions, our life choices, by. If it’s true, it’s everything. No part of our lives can be immune to or set apart from the Good News. This makes havoc of dichotomies and boundary making that isolate faith and life – in any aspect of our lives – work, relationships, money, commitments, political involvement, worldview, our bodies, our emotions, our behaviors. If we are told to not only REPENT (change our minds) but BELIEVE (set our hearts by) THE GOOD NEWS, this means nothing can be left untouched by this news. God embraces all, and we can set our lives by the truth that is God’s presence and action in us and with us.
So, if you find yourself at Lent’s beginning wondering how to begin, consider these three invitations outlined above. Go, meet and experience the Good News. Let that encounter impact and change your mind – and work at that! And determine to set your heart by the Good News you believe. What that means in terms of some aspect of your life you choose to focus on today – a relationship, a habit, a perspective, work, family, time – I do not know. But I know someone who wants to travel it with you. Jesus is the companion of the Lenten journey for us all. And may God’s Spirit provide light, gentleness and wisdom for each step.