So peaceCENTER Animating Director Ann Helmke’s opinion piece for the San Antonio Express News this morning is really about Lent and compassion — but the headline next to her photo made us smile. Here’s what she said:
Lent always makes me nervously excited. That may sound strange given this Christian-based faith tradition and spiritual practice is somewhat somber in nature. Anyone who has ever experienced a journey anywhere will understand this nervous excitement, as Lent is a 40-day journey. When one goes on a journey there may be planned destinations but no one ever knows for certain what will be experienced and discovered. Hence, nervous excitement.
Lent excites me because from personal experience it always holds true — each year I learn something new that is significant about life and faith and spirit. Likewise, Lent makes me nervous because I am not always fond about the new learning. In fact, most years the learning comes with stark realizations along with higher levels of responsibility in faithfully acting out this new learning into living life among others. I am truly grateful for the new learning but it generally comes at a cost. It is a paradox.
Lent is a reflection of Jesus’ 40 days in the wild desert where he fasted by letting go of all that might tempt him to success, superiority, and security. Then, he fastened himself solely and soul-ly onto the transforming powers that defined and propelled his life forward…
Compassion, as opposed to success. Instead of turning stones into bread, the movement becomes one of giving bread. The message is one of deeply caring for others in the midst of their suffering. It is meeting people where they are for who they are and walking together side by side.
Unity, as opposed to superiority. Instead of standing upon a pinnacle of moral and religious eliteness, the realization becomes that we are all in this life together. The message in this multi-faith, multi-cultural, and multi-faceted world is that we are interdependent. We need each other and it will take a union of spirit to heal and become whole as a people and a planet.
Love, as opposed to security. Instead of bowing down to the systems of this world as they are, the cry forward is one of shared voice and courage of heart in recreating viable life for future generations. If you have ever been in love, then you know that security is not a sure thing and the more control you try to have, the less you will actually experience.
It is all paradoxical. It is a wisdom that runs true through all world religions and summed up best in the rule called golden. Do not treat others in the ways you wish not to be treated. Treat others in the ways you wish to be treated. The wisdom is simple but not always easy. This way of unitive compassion and authentic love is the only path to peace in this world.
Maybe these words make you nervous. Maybe they excite you. Maybe these are new words to you, or perhaps old ones. And maybe you are not even a Christian reading this article about Lent. But does this mean this movement and realization and cry are any less valid?
Ask the Pope or the Dalai Lama or any other great sacred activist of past or present. Or ask many of the neuroscientists of today who are researching and finding that compassion is within our DNA structure.
All will tell you, this is the way. This is the journey. This is the path.
The Rev. Ann Helmke is the Director of Spiritual Services at Haven for Hope and also serves on the Core Team of the all-volunteer San Antonio Peace Center.