The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news. ~ Mark 1:15
Growing up, my family “religiously” went to the Wylie United Methodist Church every Sunday, but I never remember going to an Ash Wednesday service or intentionally observing Lent, a time of repentance. Yet, somehow along the way, the word “repent” acquired a great deal of heavy baggage for me: shame, guilt, pressure, and feelings of inadequacy. In my little elementary school mind I thought, “I need to repent, or God will get me.”
Thank God for ministers like Reverend Walt and Reverend Chuck, loving parents, and adult mentors who pinched my cheeks, messed up my hair, took an interest in me and loved me even though I needed to repent. Love and kindness always prevail over guilt and shame.
What does the word “repent” mean? Father Rohr writes, “First of all, it doesn’t mean to beat ourselves up or to feel bad about ourselves. ‘Repent’ means to turn around, to change.” To repent is to change our mind, our way of thinking and living.
Are we willing to change? Do we want to change? What changes would give us more peace, more joy, and more love in our lives?
After I graduated from college, I moved to Wichita, Kansas, so I could be near aunts, uncles, cousins, and especially near our family matriarch, Grandma Pruitt. Grandma drove a little tan Subaru that my sister nicknamed the “Pinto Bean.” She kept the driver’s seat as far forward as possible, and she still had leg room to spare. Grandma would pull down on the steering wheel so she could raise herself up and see over the dashboard.
An avid reader, Grandma read two books a week. She sent me a copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving with a note, “Read this.” And a copy of Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers with another simple note, “This reminds me of my family.” The book explored the complexity of a mother’s relationships with her children.
A public school librarian, Grandma taught and loved so many refugee children from around the world. She read the magazine Soviet Life during the Cold War. While in middle school I remember asking her, “Grandma, do you lean towards communism?” “Craig, just because I’m interested in Russian culture, that does not make me a communist. What are they teaching you in school?”
When the doors of the St. Paul United Methodist Church were open, Grandma was there. She told me about the arguments she would get into with Reverend Chuck but they remained best friends. Grandma told me that during one disagreement she told Rev. Chuck “to loosen his halo.”
Grandma enjoyed a glass of red wine every night. “For medical purposes only Craig,” she said with a wry smile. One night, after I moved to Wichita, while she was sipping her red wine and me a Pepsi, Grandma nonchalantly said, “I’m going to church tomorrow morning for some ashes for Lent. Do you want to go?”
“What’s that?” I asked. I went to church with Grandma every Sunday and trusted her.
“Oh, Chuck will put some ashes on our foreheads and say a few words. Hopefully, Chuck won’t get too wordy. He tends to do that.” “That’s it?” “Yeah, Lent’s a time for us to think about our relationship with God and one another. Make some changes in our lives if we need to.”
“O.K., I’ll go Grandma.”
The next morning, Grandma drove me to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in the Pinto Bean. She was chirping away like always. We walked up the back steps of the church and into Chuck’s office which was covered in books from the ceiling to the floor. “Hello Norma. Hello Craig,” Chuck said in a warm voice. “Are you here for ashes?” “Why else would we be here Chuck?” Grandma asked. He laughed.
Chuck stood up from his desk and picked up a small vase with ashes in it. He dipped his thumb in the vase, smudged it with ashes, and made the sign of the cross on Grandma’s forehead. “Norma, God loves you. Repent, and believe the Gospel. Amen.” Reverend Chuck did the same thing for me. “Craig, God loves you very much. Repent, and believe the gospel. Amen.”
Chuck said a prayer for us (it wasn’t too long) and I felt at peace; I felt at home.
Looking back, I realize how much Grandma Pruitt and Reverend Chuck loved me and so many others. They gave me space to explore my faith and ideas. I could ask questions and know they were safe with them. They were the hands and feet of Christ to me, for that I am eternally grateful.
“Have we been loved well by someone? So well that we feel confident that person will receive us and forgive our worst fault? That’s the kind of security the soul receives from God,” writes Rohr.
“Repent,” Jesus says, “and believe the good news.” “God doesn’t love us if we change; God loves us so we can change,” says Rohr.
Years later, Chuck flew out to Denver to officiate at my and Jennifer’s wedding ceremony. He and Grandma were bantering like they always did, and they both blessed us abundantly.
May we fall into God’s love and may that grace renew us, energize us, and give us the courage to love who God loves and to forgive who God forgives. Amen.
Blessings and peace,