For Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 is presenting spiritual reflections from a diverse group of students at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, who either identify as LGBTQ+ or who are involved with LGBTQ+ theological research and/or ministry. Today’s post is from Sarah Gregory, a queer Catholic school soccer mom with punk tendencies. She lives in San Francisco with her son (when he’s home from college), two cats, and mountains of books as she prepares for her Ph.D. comp exams. She works in the Silicon Valley and practices the fine art of living with liminality and cognitive dissonance. She prefers Lent over Advent, all in all.
Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Lent can be found by clicking here.
Shortly after I began graduate studies in theology in Berkeley, a friend joked that I apparently planned to become a “professional Catholic.” I’m as aware of the liturgical calendar as I am the workweek calendar that governs my real professional life, and Lent often evokes feelings of nervousness and dread, a spiritual “annual review” of sorts. I never manage to pray quite enough, and my almsgiving often doesn’t meet my own standards of stewardship of the resources that are at my disposal. Fasting can be a chore – how to choose something to give up that would make me be mindful, but not inconvenience me too much or be too uncomfortable. I’m not looking for a promotion, God, just a decent review and continued employment for the year to come, thanks.
Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the desert, which is the gospel for this First Sunday of Lent, reminds me that I’m not the only one who might be happy to let these weeks pass without interrupting my peace. We’re told that Jesus himself fasted for forty days and forty nights, and although the gospel’s author says he was hungry afterward, I’m guessing that our Lord and Savior could’ve done with a meal far sooner than that. Fully human as well as fully divine, that lengthy fast must’ve been grueling. We’re told he made it through the ordeal nonetheless, only to be tempted by the Evil One, offering him an easy out. “You’ve disrupted your life enough, Jesus. I know you’re hungry. Turn those stones to bread, if you really are the son of God!” But no – Jesus stuck it out. Surely I can try to do the same.
A priest friend pushed me to go beyond the typical stuff for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Don’t take it as a time to kick off a diet or to randomly fill up a little donation bowl and call it good, he said. Let Lent disrupt your life. Case in point: this generally quiet and reserved man of the cloth took salsa dancing lessons one Lent, forcing him to get out of his head and into a social, embodied existence. I suspect he’d have rather spent the weeks in a cave with his books and a quiet Friday afternoon at the movies, but Lent was a chance to disrupt the comfort of that isolation. For a few years, the Church itself provided some Lenten accompaniment, as I confronted questions of whether my queer, out, soccer mom self belonged here at all. Two years ago, the Lenten question was whether teachers at my child’s school would be forced to sign contracts that violated their personal lives. In those years, simply sticking it out was all that I could do.
The disruption that Lent brings is inevitable; the only question to be answered is whether I will remember what Jesus said when he was tempted: “One does not live by bread alone.” One doesn’t take the easy path through Lent, even when that path presents itself as a nice escape route. I need to keep my eyes open for what Jesus is trying to teach me this year, how my life is to be disrupted, and how I will be called to respond.
The social and political climate, both in the United States and around the globe, seems to have been tailor-made to deliver a hefty dose of disruption this Lent. Indeed, in an address to a gathering of the World Meeting of Popular Movements last month, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego called on those gathered – whether Catholic, of other faiths, or of no faith tradition at all – to disrupt the injustice that is sweeping the US and the world:
“We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men, women and children as forces of fear rather than as children of God. We must disrupt those who seek to rob our medical care, especially from the poor.
And then Bishop McElroy gave us another task: we are also to be rebuilders. He said:
“We are called to rebuild our nation which does pay $15 an hour in wages, and provides decent housing, clothing and food for those who are poorest.”
Lent this year is a call to all of us to let our lives be disrupted – in Jesus’ name. Rather than simply going to daily Mass a bit more often, I might take that hour to volunteer with a local group that helps day laborers find secure work. Rather than give up some food, how can I abstain from focusing solely on my personal concerns, and recognize that I have social capital that can benefit those who fear for their very lives if I offer it to advocate for them, at their direction? What resources do I have that others need to use to recover from the inequities they’ve faced? Can I share with them without feeling like I should be able to control how that money is used? What will be the cost of this discipleship?
This Lent, more than others, feels like a grand societal reckoning, one suited more for theology of the streets than of the books. It’s the theology of getting our hands dirty in service and putting our comfort at risk to bring about God’s vision for all of us, made together in God’s image and likeness. Regardless of who we love, how we define ourselves, the color of our skin, the language we speak, what papers we carry, or how we or our ancestors arrived in the country, we must all stand together now. These are the words from the mouth of God that we are to live by: loving our neighbor as we do ourselves.
–Sarah Gregory, Graduate Theological Union, March 5, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.