My husband and I were down in the Virgin Islands on vacation last week where we took a sunset cruise. As we looked off into the horizon and watched the sunset a conversation started with ‘what do you do.’
One of the two women I was talking to explained that she was an ex-Catholic studying to be a Methodist minister. This led to a discussion of Lent and how we were going to observe it. To my surprise, as a nominal Catholic, the third woman in our group, a Jew, fully participated in the conversation. The future minister mentioned Pope Francis and his recent comment about sacrifice and what was really important about Lent. We three ultimately agreed that some form of giving was a better way to observe Lent than giving up something we love, even if the giving up was difficult. I’m still struggling with how, based on that philosophy, what I should do, but that’s another story.
I wouldn’t think this conversation or my thoughts on it would be right for a blog, except that like politics these days, it’s a subject that seems to be on everyone’s minds. In my art class here in New York City, we’re a group of nine, ranging in age from thirty-seven to seventy, who are Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Protestants and agnostics, but Lent and how we observe it, or what we were going to “give up” was the conversation at my last class. Everyone had an opinion, Pope Francis’s recent statement was mentioned, and it seemed that whether we intended to observe it or not, we all had thought about it.
I’m not sure what this seemingly universal recognition of this Christian season means. It doesn’t happen at Christmas, where the holiday and all its trimmings are observed from afar by everyone but Christians, even if with nostalgia and pleasure. True, there are Jews that have Christmas trees, but at least from my observation, those who do have trees are in the minority. Instead, there is an emphasis on Christmas being a Christian holiday, not a universal one.
Could it be that in these tumultuous and stressful times that just as we find comfort in the existence of a holy man like Pope Francis who renews our hope that there is good in this world, we also find comfort in how we’re alike, not different. No matter what our religion or belief system, I think we recognize that we all good-hearted and thoughtful people. When times are uncertain, I think we see a need to find universal truths and be prepared to sacrifice or atone with the hope that we’ll participate in making the world a better place. Or am I complicating it? Is it simply that as a people we have far more in common with each other than we realize?