Lent begins today, with Ash Wednesday celebrated here in Gainesville, Fl and pretty much all over the world. At my little church, St. Michael’s Episcopal, our service was at 6 P.M. (I just got home). Though it was sparsely attended, it was a moving service (much about penitence, some confession of sin), with the imposition of ashes accomplished to our few, our happy few, our band of brothers and sisters.
In my childhood, growing up in a Roman Catholic family and attending Catholic school (St. John of the Cross Elementary School), a lot was made of “What are you giving up for Lent?” Typical was candy or desserts, or any other kind of treats — giving up liver, broccoli, or homework was severely frowned upon.
In adulthood, giving something up, especially something like candy (hardly ever eat it) or ice cream (that could work) doesn’t seem so apropos. I thought I’d be guided by Isaiah 58, which we read tonight at our service: Isaiah writes, in part (and remember that he’s channeling\quoting the Lord): “Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free…?”
And, “Is it not to share your bread with the poor…?” You catch the drift — house the homeless, clothe the naked, spend time with your family.
If I do that, Isaiah continues, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”
In church Sunday, our pastor stuck close to the selected Scriptures in his sermon, using them to discuss how talking to God can change a person –Moses’ face shone after he talked to God, Jacob was changed after his encounter with angels, and also Jonah — who tried to run away from God (we all remember how that turned out!). Examples abound. Father Rich’s point, though, was not just to show examples from Scripture but also to encourage us about the life-changing possibilities in knowing God better.
Got me thinking about the word “metanoia,” which I looked up in several dictionaries (still haven’t found a satisfactory parsing of the “meta” and the “noia” parts). Nonetheless, the dictionaries agree that “metanoia” is
a complete turning around, a course correction, a change of heart, or sometimes repentance. The Oxford English Dictionary reference is as follows:
late 19th century: from Greek, from metanoein ‘change one’s mind’
Strong’s Greek references, contained on Bible Suite (and accessible using a Google search on “metanoia”) has links to a couple of dozen New Testament passages using the the word, so clearly a change in one’s way of life resulting from spiritual conversion was an important issue to the evangelists and the other writers of the New Testament.
This is just a start; I next need to research the use of “metanoia” in The Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament); also, I have a hunch that there’s a strong connection with Classical Greek Tragedy — the case could be made that the essence of Greek Tragedy is conversion, a change of mind and change of life. At about the same the Greek tragedians were having make a complete, about-face change, God was giving Saul “A new heart,” representing and enabling the amazing change he made in dealing with David and Jonathan.
Here is where metanoia changes the whole person — one’s mind is changed, and one turns around, away from sin and toward fulfilling the covenant with God, In Exodos, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, but among Moses, Jacob, Saul, and David, God had important work to do, so He helped them to experience metanoia, to change their minds and hearts
In an earlier post, I mentioned that I’d been doing a scholarly study of religion since the 1980’s. I read Elaine Pagel’s book “The Gnostic Gospels,” and Thomas Sheehan’s book “The First Coming.” Both Pagels and Sheehan are university professors and scholars in New Testament. So I read through a number of their sources–including the 19th century German scholars who devised the Three-Document Hypothesis for the origin of the Gospels (Bultmann, Harnack).
In short, the Three-Document Hypothesis says that Mark is the firstt Gospel, with Luke and Matthew using a lot of Mark; BUT where Luke and Matthew diverged from Mark, the German scholars hypothesized another source, which they named “Q” (“quelle,” or source). Since they worked, the “Q” source has been both somewhat discovered and subsequently assembled (from its appearance in Matthew and Luke).
It’s more complex, but there it is in brief. I did a good bit of reading, but one cannot really be a scholar of the New Testament without reading Greek and Hebrew, which I cannot — so I have to stand on the shoulders of real scholars. Nor do I read German, so I must read the German scholars in translation.
Oh, well. Sigh. We do the best we can.
From time to time I’ll post about religion, which I practice as well as study — I’ve been doing a serious scholarly study of religion since the 1980’s, read many of the scholarly sources about Christianity (my religion of choice), and find that there’s much to say.
I’m a seriously practicing Episcopalian, so serious that I actually considered becoming a priest or deacon and talked to my bishop about it. I was born and baptized Roman Catholic, practiced that through high school, and “reverted” to it for a few years starting in March 1999 after years of being away.
More on that later.