There are seasons of remembrance, seasons for joy, and seasons for growth. So says the book of Ecclesiastes in chapter three, and the song by The Byrds which speaks of being able to, “Turn, Turn, Turn.”
Religious communities across the world commemorate such needed times in our life. Christians have Lent, that 40 day journey before Easter. Jewish believers spend 10 days as a reflective time period in the Days of Awe each fall. These are bracketed by Rosh Hashanah and sealed with the holy day of Yom Kippur. Muslim adherents practice these same habits during the holy month of Ramadan.
Whether you are a believer or not, the practices being referenced include fasting, helping those in need, prayer, reflection, and community. Let’s examine how each of these can help you in your own growth.
Fasting just means picking something you want to limit. Perhaps you are limiting the number of lattes you buy in the next month, or refraining from negative speech with someone with whom you struggled. Such practices are a way to improve your outlook on what is truly necessary.
Helping those in need (almsgiving) means helping others in the ways that we can. Choosing to pick up and return a neighbor from the grocery store might be what you can do, or maybe you place a few items a week into one of the free pantries around town so someone can benefit. Making a difference to your neighbor is how we make a better world, and it’s not hard.
Prayer and meditation are highly personal. Some people’s connection with a higher power might come at an AA meeting, or while fishing off a pier. God is found in sunsets and children’s laughter as well as in a church building. By taking some time to be aware of the mystery that is in and around us each day, we cultivate a heart of gratitude.
Reflection is what the brain does each and every day to decide if an idea is worth keeping, or if it needs modification. Young children often tend to think parents are the answer to all of their questions. As those same individuals grow older, we introduce them to new ideas in our daily activities, schools, and play. They read new books and decide some ideas are fiction and some are reasonable. Taking five minutes before retiring each night can make our days meaningful as we consider what we have learned as the day progressed.
Finally, we get to the last practice, which is community. Human beings do better in a place where other people listen to us, have our backs, and challenge us when we are wrong. If that’s your bowling group, great. Perhaps you have a card club or you gather with buddies once a week at the American Legion. All of these are great opportunities, but often they miss one of the steps above. They may listen to us, but not have a desire for us to come to our own solutions, or perhaps they have our backs when they really should be challenging us on something that is a barrier for us.
I challenge you to find an authentic community in your life. There are many scattered around Muscatine, and yes, some of them include houses of worship. That does not mean that you will agree with all of their ideas; indeed, you should be asking questions in any community of which you are a part, but that effort of reaching out to others and showing up in return can make your life a better place and help you love more fully.
On Feb. 22, my church tradition will celebrate Ash Wednesday with an evening service where our foreheads are marked with ashes to signify the beginning of the season of Lent. During this season, may we remember that both in joyous times and in times of struggle, God is hoping that we will grow into a more grateful and gracious human through the power of community. I hope you find one.