March 11 ~ Third Week
Dear old and new friends,
Easter Rabbit believers are looking forward to his visit in only a couple of weeks. He along with Santa, fairies of lost teeth and hidden treasures, dancing Leprechauns and other impossible wonders, delight the young inhabitants of the world who believe in fantasy. Uncouthly they soon become victims of child abuse; around the age of seven to nine, even three (with sophisticated parents), their belief in fantasy and the unimaginable evaporates. It can be the education by some “wise” kid or a slow evolving skepticism and doubt that the once unbelievable could actually exist in this harsh nitty-gritty world evaporates.
The Spring Renaissance’s good news is that we’re born into an unimaginable, fantastical place! Childhood fantasy’s enchanted world was our kindergarten for living today and being aware of where you are and of the surrounding wondrous neighborhood. You live on planet Earth circling around our daystar, the sun, 93 million miles away. If you desired to take a trip to the sun (the largest object in 25 trillion miles of nearby galactic space) driving at 55 miles an hour it would take you 193 years!
Buckle your fantasy safety belt. If you wanted to drive to the sun’s closest star in the galaxy, Alpha Centauri (a cluster of three stars), at 55 miles an hour the journey would take you 52 million years! As for enjoying the scenery as you drive, there’s nothing, just emptiness. Now put on your awe-shock helmet: If our local neighborhood of our solar system of the sun and nine planets was put inside a coffee cup in Kansas City, our Milky Way galaxy with its 300 to 400 billion stars would be the size of North America. And our galaxy is but one of an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the universe!
Is class over yet? It’s barely begun! The space between our daystar the sun and Alpha Centauri is empty, as is the space between all the other billions of stars. John Davidson said in 1989 that declaring space is empty is grossly misleading; it is more correct to use the term “creative vacuum.” Today, scholars believe this “empty” space and the vastness of all outer space is a massive whirlpool of raw potential life forces, unknown fields of energy. But this vacant vastness is essential to planetary existence as a cooling down space for interaction between stars.
Our cosmos needs massive amounts of empty space…and we, too, need empty space and time! However, remember we fear, even dread, emptiness and so fill it with music, chatter, noise and ever-present television. To cure your fear of emptiness seek out an uninhabited church; go in and sit in the holy hollow silence so this creative vacuum can calm and replenish you. Other cures include the practice of meditation, common old fashioned fishing devoid of noise or sitting on your front or back porch doing nothing but being entertained (and inner-trained) by the fertile purposelessness of nothing. I know personally that this isn’t easy, yet like for the cosmos it is essential.
A renaissance evening prayer after a hard day at work might be to go outside and look up at the stars…and become a child again. Have awe-filled fun imagining the unbelievable, impossible distances between the stars and the fantastic size of our ever evolving cosmos.
The previous reflection started with childhood fantasy. So I want to return to what was important as a child. The main part of the old Lent for children was the penance of “giving up” something we liked, and this attitude of denial endured into adulthood. I can remember as a young boy that on our kitchen table in Lent was a large Mason jar in which we put gifts of candy we had given up for the 40 days of Lent. That candy jar became our Lenten gauge since as the candy level rose higher and higher we knew Easter was getting closer, and at noon on Holy Saturday (which was the end of Lent in those olden days) we could eat the candy.
Everyone was expected to do penance in Lent, to endure some discomfort or pain for God. Lenten penances were how you made restitution or satisfaction for past sins now, instead of when after you died. Some gave up playing card games while others gave up beer or, even harder, smoking. To understand the concept of penance you need a medieval mind since scholars treated forgiveness of sin from a four point civil legal aspect: remorse, confession, absolution and finally satisfaction. In this feudal legal system justice required satisfaction or restitution for your sins. Early confessional penance/restitutions were very harsh: a year of fasting, going on far distant pilgrimages, and even celibacy. Later reforms in the act of confession reduced penances to saying prayers.
It is humorous to imagine the healer Jesus saying to a cripple, “Your sins are forgiven, throw away your crutch, and for your penance go and say three Hail Mary’s and….” We need to find wholesome replacements for those old penances in our Spring Renaissance since denial is a powerful and useful spiritual tool for growth.
Penances are typically forms of denial. Possible Renaissance penances could be when finding ourselves in a group where everyone is putting down someone who is absent, we deny ourselves participating in the discussion or we try to change the subject. When we find ourselves making an unfounded assumption in our mind about someone else or judging another’s status or value by how he or she are dressed or act, call an instant recess of that courtroom in our head.