At the Carnival of Lent, begun by Episcosours, and continued this week at Word of Mike the topic this week is Refraining. Last week was Repentance and I couldn’t even begin to deal with the repentance in my life and what repentance means. But, Refraining stretches me to consider why I refrain – why I refrain from doing something – why I have a chorus that repeats itself throughout my life.
I refrain from using cuss words in front of people that I think might be offended. This is respecting the dignity of other humans. I have cussed most of my life – growing up with a sailor father and finding so much gratification in the vehement propulsion of some of these words. Sometimes, however, I don’t think about what I’m going to say – mostly in times of anger – and I just burst out with this stream of profanities and blasphemies. I remember being angry at a parishioner once and stumbling into the rector’s office after a brief meeting with this person. I shoved open the door and out burst this long (for me) string of words that emptied the office faster than a fire alarm. I think I have a little better control now some ten years later. I hold it in until the place and people are more appropriate and by then the urge is often gone.
I refrain from claiming that I am not a bigot. I am in so many ways that I can’t even begin to touch them all. I grew up in the segregated south and was not allowed to associate with black people. I grew up with a slightly snobbish mother who refused to let me play with poor white trash. I grew up with a drunken father who turned me against all drunks (including myself for a time). I grew up ostracized by the Presbyterians (because Dad was a drunk) and the Southern Baptists (because I danced), and I am all for inclusion except for the Presbyterians (well the PCA anyway) and the Southern Baptists. I wouldn’t even hold my mother’s funeral inside the church that turned me away; we had a graveside service in the cemetery just outside. I don’t consciously discriminate against any of the people about whom I am prejudiced; I just do it in ways that I don’t recognize until later. Most of my prejudices are due to my own fears, many from childhood. No excuses, though.
I refrain from blaming others for my feelings. Well, I try. That only creates more prejudice and more hurt.
But, the most important refrain in my life is one that my Mother installed in my life. It’s the chorus to every verse, and it’s what holds my life together. I’ve written about this before – the songs that she played on the piano while we sang our worship of God at home. “And, he walks with me and he talks with me.” “Love lifted me, when nothing else could help, love lifted me.” “out on the glad hills of God’s glory, moving in rapturous throng, the saints are rehearsing their story, singing a wonderful song.” The chorus of Immanuel, God with us, a personal God who cares about me and you and you and you (and even those people mentioned above), God is love, We are one with the saints and with God.
If I’m to get through saying the Litany of Penitence every night of Lent, then I need this chorus to remind me that refraining from hurting others and repenting of the times that I do are offset by God’s grace and glory that I will know more fully at Easter.