Bye-Bye Meat, Cheese, and Elephant

March 1, 2009 – Finally was able to release a few tensions. This would probably be more effective if I posted around Lent, but I’m impatient…deal with it.

Tonight was the beginning of the end. Cheesefare Sunday with Forgiveness Vespers. Read here.

I didn’t know about Forgiveness Vespers until a few weeks ago. Once explained, it made me anxious. The last few weeks haven’t been exactly banner moments for the life and times for this Tall Ray of Sunshine.

Most of you are not aware: I moved to Indiana with an Elephant. Somehow in my Saturn packed to the brim with my stuff, I found room for an Elephant. Up until now, I was pretty sure what The Elephant’s name was. I tried to ignore it; some days I would try to acknowledge its presence and pray it would just get up and leave. Most days however, The Elephant suffocated me. Elephants tend to work with a double edged sword. They suffocate you physically by suffocating your personality. At the end of the day, if I took time to reflect, I would typically feel that everything I did or felt had a Jumbo Elephant stamp on it. It was The Elephant’s fault, always.

I knew The Elephant had to go, but Elephants are tricky. I was lead to believe that until The Elephant asked for reprieve it didn’t have permission to go. I fell for the lie that I could feel better by making The Elephant’s life miserable.

Then I find out what occurs during Forgiveness Vespers. I had options: either get mowed over by The Elephant charging straight at me or open the door and tell it to leave.

The Liturgies the past 5 weeks have all been presenting Scriptures and songs to encourage our preparation for the Lenten fast. That we should be reminded of who we are (sinners) and that we are to forgive and make peace with others. This is only a small portion of the spiritual smack-down the last 5 weeks have been on my heart. Anyone who thinks Liturgy is dead has not been paying attention.

Forgiveness Vespers is one of the final markers that Lent has begun. Again, I didn’t know about it until a few weeks ago, and the mere thought of what I had to do made me anxious. After a typical Vespers (prayers, psalms, readings) with a few extra kicks of encouragement regarding the upcoming fasting season, something I will call “the acknowledgment” began. Beginning with the priest and deacon, they each bowed to one another saying “Forgive me, a sinner.” In response to each other, “God forgives all.” And because it’s the Orthodox Church, a few kisses on the cheek exchanged. See point #5 for an explanation on that. This continues in a circle so that everyone present asks forgiveness of each other.

I didn’t even know the names of some people in the room. Yeah, it felt a little awkward at times. Others know me more than my self-protective tendencies would prefer. Regardless of how little or well I knew a person, I bowed to a fellow sinner and asked for his or her forgiveness. In response to their petition, I said “God forgives all.”

The Elephant was not going to be in attendance at Forgiveness Vespers. With every bow, every proclamation from my lips that “God forgives,” every hug, every kiss, I saw that The Elephant wasn’t who I thought. The source of the Elephant was actually me. I wasn’t expecting that. Rather than a singular name, The Elephant was christened a host of adjectives: bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, and resentment to list a few.

Even if the source had been what I thought, it is God who forgives. It didn’t matter what I thought The Elephant did and whether or not it stood in front of me and asked forgiveness. It is God who forgives. It’s not up to me whether rewards or vengeance is given. When I perceive that someone has wronged me, I am to have one response: God forgives all.

The Elephant was asked to leave. To who I thought originally sourced The Elephant: God forgives all. And if it starts banging on my door or trying to slip its trunk in a window: God forgives all. In no way is this a magic formula for life; it’s the mindset for living in peace.

I can breathe now. Happy Lent.



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