ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON STATE OF FORMATION, AN ONLINE PUBLICATION FOR EMERGING RELIGIOUS AND ETHICAL LEADERS WHICH WAS FOUNDED AS AN OFFSHOOT OF THE JOURNAL OF INTERRELIGIOUS STUDIES, HOUSED AT CIRCLE, A SHARED CENTER AT HEBREW COLLEGE AND ANDOVER NEWTON THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to do anything for Lent. It’s a little bit of an awkward season for Unitarian Universalists, anyway. As I said to my partner, “For Christians, it’s all: ok, let’s be sad and somber until Easter, and then—surprise!—Jesus is alive again!” And cue the choruses of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”! Or, as my minister much more eloquently put it in one of his recent sermons:
Now the conclusion that Christians are supposed to come away with, after doing the Lenten self-examination is that there is nothing they can do to perfect the person they now see is irredeemably broken. We are not good enough, strong enough, or wise enough to save ourselves or others. And so at the end of Lent the Christian comes to Easter prepared to give themselves over to the salvation of Christ. In other words, after the ‘come-to-Jesus’ honesty of Lent, the Christian comes-to-Jesus at Easter.
Since I knew I wouldn’t be having such a moment at Easter, I was reluctant to engage in Lent at all. But then one of my friends here at seminary pointed out to me that perhaps I could add something, like a spiritual practice.
So I started to think. Recents events swirled around my head. The decision of Duke Universityto reverse their choice to have the Muslim call to prayer sound from the chapel, where the Muslim students pray in the basement. The tragic shooting of three young Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The many frustrating conversations I have had with people about their ideas that Islam is “inherently violent.”
I also thought about the class on radical compassion I am taking right now, and the practices we have been doing in there. My professor has emphasized multiple times that compassion is not just feeling another’s suffering—but also sharing in the celebration of another’s joy and flourishing. And so, for Lent, I decided to delve into a deeper understanding of Muslim spirituality, taking time each morning to read some poetry or teachings from various Muslim teachers and mystics. I would not just focus on defending Islam through interfaith activism, but would explore what I found beautiful in the tradition and would share that with those around me.
So, yes, that leaves me focusing on Islam for Lent.
And, somehow, that feels right. I think that our sacred seasons and holidays are an important and ripe time for sharing. I think—as this post’s title suggests—that there is great power in holy day/holiday solidarity. I think about my Muslim friend who commented during the buzz of Christmas that he hoped that, someday, his children would experience that same society-wide festiveness about Eid here in America. I think about my Eastern Orthodox friend, sitting in a required intensive class during Orthodox Christmas instead of spending the day with her loved ones at their religious services. I think about the many interfaith events I’ve seen scheduled for Saturdays.
Then I think about the non-Muslims I know who have fasted for Ramadan in solidarity. The times I have been pulled into dances for festivals not of my tradition by laughing, smiling friends. The welcomes of warm food and music I have been invited into.
Time is a crucial aspect of being. How we mark new years and holidays and seasons matters. And pluralism requires that we honor these different ways of living time. It means having a spirit of hospitality to welcome others into our holy days, as well as accepting the hospitality extended to us by others. It means standing in solidarity with our religious neighbors when their holy times are threatened, as well as sharing in their joy when they are celebrated.
There are many ways to do this, and I think this is part of our challenge—how will we mark time and engage in holy days in an increasingly pluralistic society? I don’t have all the answers. But as I’m reading Rumi (among others) for Lent, he reminds me:
Many inns must be left
before you reach your home.
The journey continues.
Together, we choose the patterns of our lives and the days we share, and the way our sacred times will bless each other.