I find it hard to believe that Tarella Spirituality is now ten years old. In the blogging world that’s a long time. Now seems to be an appropriate time to retire the current format and replace it with something simpler and more tablet and iPhone friendly. All the articles and Gospel reflections that are currently on Tarella Spirituality will still be only a click away at www,tarellaspirituality.com.
My new site, Judith Scully: Words from the Edge, will be online in the next few weeks. In the meantime you might like to have a say in what topics and ideas you would like to see explored in these new pages. Send me a note at judith@ judithscully.com.au and I’ll definitely consider.
And in case you are wondering, all current subscribers will be notified in the usual way when Words from the Edge is up and running. .
I look forward to ‘seeing’ you there.
And now – my last contribution to Tarella Spirituality.
Lent’s sooty fingerprint
The arrival of lent has been threatening me ever since hot cross buns appeared in the supermarket the day after Christmas. Even though I am decades and decades away from my childhood, whatever I absorbed about lent during those impressionable years continues to tiptoes into my now and whispers, “What are you giving up for lent?” It was always lollies, though my mother put a different spin on possibilities the year she chose to deprive herself of her favourite radio serial, Blue Hills.
Since about the 8th century lent has begun with a sooty thumbprint. There’s nothing very life-giving about ashes. It’s a doom and gloom kind of symbol, a solemn reminder of the fleetingness of all things. If you know the story of Cinderella you’ll remember that before she got to dance with the prince she spent a lot of her time sitting in the ashes. And this is the theology many of us have been taught: before we can be transformed we have to sit in the ashes.
The timing of lent owes its origin to the early catechumens preparing for their Easter baptism. A long preparation culminated in a liturgy marked by a smorgasbord of symbols – jugs of scented oil, the laying on of hands, water, lots of it, new white clothes and the bread and wine of Eucharist – all emphasising the new Christian’s recognition and acceptance that their soul was imprinted with God’s thumbprint.
The first time I was thumb-printed was at my baptism, when the priest signed my forehead with oil. In the years that led up to my confirmation, when I was once again thumb-printed with oil, I don’t recall anyone telling me that this anointing was an ancient and tangible sign of my specialness, a recognition that I was created in the image and likeness of God.
Like every child who has ever come into this world I was born imprinted with God’s loving touch. That touch lives in me as a mysterious God memory, something we express in biblical language when we say we are created in the image and likeness of God. The more I’ve thought about this, the more my understanding of baptism and of being Catholic has changed.
Over centuries the religious focus of the weeks before Easter moved away from baptism and become defined by the buzz words of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. We are encouraged to join a Lenten Gospel discussion group, eat fish on Fridays ( the supermarkets encourage this), put our spare cash in a Project Compassion box or Children’s hospital tin and maybe give up chocolate or alcohol for a whole six weeks. This year, in a statement leading up to lent, the Australian Bishops asked catholics to take part in four days of fasting and reparation. They linked this to the trauma and institution has experienced as a result of the child abuse scandal and tragedy.
These are all worthy Lenten practices but, sitting as I do on the edge of my catholicity, none of them appeal greatly to me. Even though I know that in any given day I leave a trail of ‘could do better’ .behind me, the Jesus of the Gospels shows me over and over again, that the relationship God and me is as individual and personal as a fingerprint. That fingerprint was God’s birth gift to me, something my parents accepted in my name when they chose to have me baptised.
Now that’s something to spend time appreciating this lent.