Lent, Election Years and Why I Am Not Pretending to be Happy
by Frank Wynerth Summers III on Saturday, February 25, 2012 at 10:57am ·
I had begun this note before I got an e-mail from Senator David Vitter’s office relating Ash Wednesday and Lent to Political and governmental matters. Yet, despite that e-mail it remains a rare thing to do. Christmas is a holiday more woven into political life in this country than Lent by a factor of several thousand times. While no Jewish holidays enjoy the legal status of Christmas or Easter I would say that both Rosh Hashanna and Chanukka are much more part of government and political life than Yom Kippur is — while Lent and Yon Kippur are quite different but both have a them of making oneself a little uncomfortable and seeking to set oneself in better order with God and one’s fellow man through certain spiritual and moral practices as defined by tradition and community. Ramadan is a Muslim holy month which in reality was inspired by the Christian Lent as much as anything else and yet is less like Lent than Yom Kippur is but more like Lent than most other things are. The Native American, Indian or most correctly Aborigional American religions have a diversity of customs of warrior discipline, fasting, sweat lodges and vision quests woven into a whole set of varied time frames that yet more distantly relate to the values of Lent. In Buddhist cultures the beautiful and ornate monasteries and temples are nonethelss places where people often go in a variety of customs to spend times of varied lenghts and frequency in aesthetic practices, seeking after spiritual enlightenment and trying to decrease on’e ties to forces which disrupt spiritual harmony. In Louisiana and some other Catholic places the season of Lent follows the unofficial carnival season. This season which begins at the end of the Christmas season on Epiphany’s evening or Twelfth Night is only one of several blocks of ordinary time in the official church calendar. But after the Magi visted Jesus and the Holy Family they went into pagan Egypt for a time. So the Catholic Community has preserved a sort of unofficial sojourn into the pagan heritage of Christian people prior to the sobriety of Lent. This makes the contrast of Mardi Gras and the following Ash Wednesday much more stark than ordinary time does. Our country could probably stand quite a bit of sober reflection right now. Lent is not a bad symbol for the processes we need to engage in more often than we would like for several years.
Christianity has been largely wiped out in many of the countries where it achieved some of its greatest cultural advances and benefits which is in itself a sobering reflection for Christians to engage in during this or any other season. Antioch in Syria was the first place where the word “Christians”, in its original multiple languages, was used to describe the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. I have seen a variety of images of children and babies shot to death. I heard the last interview with Marie Colvin when it was first sent from Homs and broadcast by Anderson Cooper’s CNN program. She was dead within hours. Clearly there are real crises here and people are deeply suffering. Clearly innocent people are suffering in this early cradle of my faith. Yet I am equally concerned about the horrific record of Islamists, militant Muslim Arabs and almost every other likel political power block as it relates to the many people likely to be killed and dispossessed over coming decades and centuries should the rebels win. Our government has rejected and destroyed every posssible enlightnment and tradition that would define democracy correctly here and everywhere else it can reach and now exports a load of ideological crap with no basis in anything but a naked calculator and ballot box and calls it democracy. Then a country which risks being driven out of Afghanistna by the Taliban and mobs angry over a Koran burning actually has Secretary Clinton threaten bloodshed against Russian and China for vetoing resolutions against the Syrian regime. We are drunk, mad and careening out of control. Sadly, there are no simple solutions to most of the problems a great nation faces and we are becoming a nation which can only produce simple solutions made into vastly long and complex treaties, bills and protocols by the basic imbecility of the way they are structured. We are in real trouble which we avoid bringing to a head by constanly digging in to a more exposed and deluded condition. Seldom do we do or say anything which is not colored by at least some language which threatens the very structure of civilization of any kind.
We have cut human intelligence forces, rejected establishing responsible and relatively democratic client regimes, constantly knocked down power structures and built nothing lasting in their place. When we finish doing all of this our options are mostly bad ones. So it is time for us to look at Lent and a little self-improvement. It is time for America to sober up. Time to learn something about responsibility and self-control. We need to really denounce the draft as a last resort in my view but if we are going to do that we need to spend time, money and talent encouraging martial culture. Helping also with citizen diplomacy and the Peace Corps. We need a larger and more complete body of CIA field officers, we need to enlarge and enhance our Foreign Service. We need to support and foster junior and regular ROTC and recruiting programs of the military. All of this rather than being a lot to do is in my view far short of what we really need to do but it is a small start thet may keep us alive to make bigger changes.
Christian citizens need to support and foster the best misiionary work in the most risky places which come throught their mail, church pulpits and web searches. We need to support our Christian brothers and sisters in predominantly Muslim countries in every responsible way we can afford. Clearly the post -Saddam Iraqi regime for which many Americans have fought and some have died is in great trouble. Clearly the violence is almost endless there. Yet clearly things are far worse in Afghanistan. We need to think soberly about this. It is time for some Lent.
I am trying to live some Lent. Probably not so well as I should. It is now Lent which is a less celebratory and festive season than Carnival, Christmas or Easter in the Calendar I live by but it is not a season intended for sheer gloominess either. The start of the season was not such a bad day. I went to Mass and to receive the ashes. Then I went to the Vermilion Parish Library. There I checked out some materials, read some others, did some work online and then went to the Congressman Charles Boustany Town Hall Meeting held there. It went on a bit and then I came back to Big Woods and among other things I watched the Republican Presidential Debate. It really and truly was not a day typified by enormously negative aspects or occurrences in any of the events. Ash Wednesday like the entire season of Lent s not intended to be Catholic Misery Day. It is a day of sobriety and starting a season of repentance and wisng up but it is not a big festival of unhappiness. The unhappiness I felt this Wednesday and before and after it or woven into the general way I feel and it is an unhappiness not required by my religion although I do feel it at a fairly religious level. I am not very happy. Really not. I thought I would write a note on Facebook about that.
There are many reasons to feel that life has not conspired to make one happy. I suppose that the lack of clarity of national puropose is one of those least often articulated as a reason. It is true that I believe many people are made unhappy in countries where the country is trapped in an aimless malaise. However, most of those people do not recognize this as the reason for such unhappiness. I do not pretend that the situation of our country is the main reason I am unhappy. My love life, finances, health and social situation probably all depress me more than the nation’s politics.
I know Santorum is the most openly and robuslty Catholic presidential candidate in terms of identity in my lifetime. I will not vote in the Republican Primaries but I do hope he has some of the insights of Lent in his political life. I hope the other candidates do too. There are times in life and social development when wild-eyed optimism and self-esteem are good states of mind to cultivate. I do not think that this is such atime for America. Our nation could use some Lent right now. We have alot to do, are over-extended, corrupt and often misguided. This is a good time for serious and purifying thought. If we all engage in such an exercise we will not agree and there is no guarantee that we will come through this well. But the chances of a bright future coming out of deluded recklessnes are very small cances indeed.