Now…Open your heart…Now is the time…Love Large…
The scripture readings for Ash Wednesday give us tremendous insights into how God wants us to spend this Lenten season. The first and second readings offer both clarity and a sense of urgency in the messages: EVEN NOW…“Return to me, rend (tear open) your hearts, blow the trumpet, proclaim a fast, call an assembly, gather the people, notify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children…NOW is a very acceptable time. NOW is the day of salvation.” The time is now! We are called to be and become someone new right now! God is at work and wants so much for us to recognize all the wonderful gifts offered in each and every moment. Why is it so hard for us to stay in the “now” moment? To recognize God’s presence in the here and now? To not become anxious about tomorrow? Or perhaps what the future will hold? This moment is really the only moment we have, why not give and open our hearts to it? Be whole-hearted in it?
In addition, Matthew’s gospel offers us quite a challenge! I pondered this story for quite some time–contemplating human beings, our motivation, and our need for approval and applause. However, I was drawn to a deeper insight: Jesus calls us to leave go of the approval and applause and let LOVE be our bottom line. Let love be at the heart of any prayer and conversation with God and everyone else. Let love be at the source of all giving, all sacrificing, all good deeds. When real love—love without condition—is the bottom line, we have no need for applause—the loving is its own reward.
I’d like to share a piece of a story from just a year ago that has everything to do with living whole-heartedly in the present moment, leaving our hearts wide open for God, and love being the bottom line. Four years ago, when one of my best friends from high school was pregnant with her son, she was diagnosed with cancer. She fought a good fight with round after round of chemotherapy and radiation, seventeen major surgeries, medications and lengthy hospital stays. In January of 2011, her diagnosis became terminal—the cancer had metastasized to the bones in her legs and her spine. We, a large circle of family and friends, spent the next few months accompanying a beautiful woman to her death. Throughout those months, we were all so keenly aware of the sacredness and fragility of life. We knew that every moment with this person was worth treasuring. We savored everything. We delighted in every hello, smile, and bit of laughter. With every good-bye came an “I love you.” We all desperately wanted to be fully present to each moment because we were never sure if a next moment would come again.
Living in and for each moment continuously left our hearts wide open to whatever God and my friend had in store for us that day. We delighted in the deeper conversations and connections, laughter and surprises, holding hands, sharing meals, stories, prayers, and Eucharist. Certainly, we suffered with every set back and complication (there were many) and as we watched our friend writhe in pain as the cancer consumed her body. Our hearts were broken apart as we witnessed her with her son and husband, her parents and grandparents, brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles, and friends–how much love she had for all of us, how she so much wanted to be with and for us, and when the time came, how she courageously surrendered it all. She taught all of us so much. We learned to accept our own vulnerability, powerlessness, limitations, and to depend on God and one another for help and strength. We learned to spend less time on trivial drama and more time on reconciling differences and really loving.
We loved her—that was the bottom line. We showed up. We did anything we could to stand with her in her suffering, carry a bit of her burden, and alleviate some of her pain. There were many sleepless nights. We learned to navigate hospitals, treatments, medications, infections, people, and volumes of emotions. We made ourselves available to the tasks at hand. Nothing was too hard. All was done in the name of love.
My friend died on the last day of Lent. She lived Lent and she taught us to do the same. During this Lenten season, instead of “fasting from” or “giving up” something tangible like chocolate or Facebook, pretzels and soda and potato chips, perhaps we might consider how we are simply called to LIVE as whole-hearted participants in each moment, to open our hearts continuously to God’s invitation moment to moment—to recognize the sacredness of “NOW”—that NOW is all we have, and to LOVE LARGE in that very moment.
Is love your bottom line? I want it to be mine.