Pathways through Lent

Weekday reflections from St. John’s in the season of Lent.

Friday in the First Week of Lent: February 23, 2024

Improbable Faith

The readings for Lent II begin with God’s covenant with Abraham, that this 99-year-old man and Sarah will become the parents of many nations. Abraham has faith in God’s message, and his belief becomes an example for all generations. Improbable faith characterizes other remarkable people, such as Harriet Tubman and Pauli Murray.

Harriet Tubman (1822–1913) was born enslaved, but escaped and became the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. What if Harriet Tubman had allowed the discomforts and danger of her rescue missions to discourage her? She carried a small pocket-sized hymnal with her that sustained her work. Hymns like “Rescue the Perishing” and “Swing low, sweet Chariot” were among her favorites. She possessed an improbable faith that gave her the courage to venture on dangerous journeys, rescuing more than 70 people from slavery, including her family and friends.

Pauli Murray (1910–1985) was a civil rights activist, lawyer, and Episcopal priest. Her 1950 book, States’ Laws on Race and Color, provided the legal arguments for Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned school segregation laws in 1954. Murray challenged sex discrimination in legal arguments that resonated throughout Congress. She co-authored with Ruth Bader Ginsberg arguments to show that the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment also guaranteed equal protection to women. Murray’s untiring work for justice was alongside a lifetime of discrimination. As a new priest s/he wrote these words, “Whatever future ministry I might have as a priest, it was given to me that day to be a symbol of healing. All the strands of my life had come together. Descendant of slave and of slave owner, I had already been called poet, lawyer, teacher, and friend. Now I was empowered to minister the sacrament of One in whom there is no north or south, no black or white, no male or female—only the spirit of love and reconciliation drawing us all toward the goal of human wholeness.”

As we walk through Lent, it is easy to focus on the struggles, the uncertainty, the discomfort that Lent evokes in difficult passages of scripture. The music this Sunday reflects some of this spiritual cacophony: Herbert Howells’s “Like as the Hart,” which has the words, “Where is now my God?” and the hymn text by John Donne, “Wilt thou forgive that sin” in which the sinner’s long list of misdeeds becomes a crushing load. We’ll sing of “life’s dark maze” and other uncomfortable realities.

Lent is full of dissonance—both musical and spiritual—that reminds us of the restructuring work we’re called to do. And yet, if Lent is to be a fruitful time, a springing time, it also means reconciliation and time for healing, for meditating on the improbable power of God. The Irish poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama writes that to be born in the image of God is to be born of God’s imagination. There are no limits to what God can do, including the courage to believe that all things are possible. If a 99-year old couple are part of God’s imagination, what more is in store for us?

Lyn Loewi
Associate Organist

Links to the appointed readings for today