Merry Alzheimer's Wednesday
Dear old and new friends,
Today’s Ash Wednesday begins Lent, that annual, marvelous opportunity for spirit/soul growth regardless of your religious affiliation…or lack of it. This Wednesday’s name comes from the ancient practice of tracing a cross of ashes on the forehead of public sinners as they began their Lenten forty days of penance. This reception of ashes was by the eleventh century the norm for all Christians.
Old time Catholics who prefer the antique Latin Mass also would love a return to Lent’s former strictness. Such a revival of the former harsh Lent would mean 40 days of strict fasting, abstinence of meat, milk products, cheese and eggs, along with the self-punishments of going barefoot, sleeping on the floor and not cutting one’s hair or bathing! Imagine having to work beside (or live with) a devout old Lenten observer who abstained from bathing for 40 days!
That old grim Lent is still alive and with us today in churches dominated by a large cross draped in a penitential purple cloth. There the clergy admonished the faithful to recall their former sinfulness, go to confession and do penance. Do you think God desires such a forty day guilt trip? Or shouldn’t its purpose be the same as that of life, only intensified: growth in love of God and one another? Kneeing in guilt begging contritely for pardon isn’t the stance of a lover. So open your heart and arms to God and instead of dredging up your old sins—forget them!
The saintly Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), a Ukrainian Hasidic mystic, taught that “...most people think of forgetting as a defect, but I consider it a great benefit. Unless you forget your past sinfulness it will be utterly impossible to serve God because surfacing memories of your old sins only disturbs your abilities today to love with unbounded affection.” I think we should rename Ash Wednesday as Alzheimer’s Wednesday! I know the very mention of the “A” word causes shivers. Forgetfulness creates regrets and, if you’re middle-aged or older, the dreaded fear of the possible onslaught of that life-stealing disease.
Yet, to intentionally forget is essential not only to be a better lover of God but also in daily life. Unless you wipe clean your memory of where you parked at the grocery store two days ago, you won’t recall where you parked today. Having holy dementia about the old mishaps of your marriage partner or wrongs done to you in the past by others makes lovingly pardoning them as easy as—Lenten pie.
Jesus at the Last Supper initiated a New Covenant, and among its conditions the prophet Jeremiah quotes God saying, “I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more!” (Jer.31, 34) When the clergy urge you to scour your soul for past sinfulness and repent, recall the words of your Alzheimer Lord and those of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Have a Revolutionary Romantic and Merry Lent.