Many of you will have come to know my penchant for changing hair style and colour quite often, and often in crazy, edgy ways. It is something of a 'thing' for me, to play with my hair - or invite my hairdresser to treat my hair as her canvas.
Well, now I am shaving it all off.
The church has a seasonal rhythm to its life, with liturgical colours for ordinary time, preparation time and celebrations.
Preparation seasons lead up to our two major celebrations - Christmas and Easter. Purple is the colour for these seasons - a colour for the church that symbolises penitence, or a turning back to God with honesty about our having turned away. The penitential mood is stronger in Lent, as we remember the flawed nature of our humanity, and also its goodness, which is affirmed in God's choice to become human with us in Jesus. We remember also the cost of following God's Way of Love, as we see in the story of Jesus in his journey towards the cross.
The penitence of Lent has been expressed in many traditions through fasting. Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, emerges in part from stories of the exodus of the Hebrew people from captivity, the using up of food not able to be taken on the journey, an act of preparation for journey, for making do with less.
I have heard many Protestants wonder at the usefulness of fasting in Lent, or the practice of giving something else up - which often becomes linked with fundraising campaigns for the Church's work in communities of need. How will my going without chocolate, TV, haircuts and colours make a difference to someone else? Why bother?
Ah, but the giving up is not about changing poverty or education somewhere else. It is about paying attention.
And this is the richness of the seasonal pattern to our life. In these seasons of preparation, we pay particular attention to our turning from and our returning to God. Removing a distraction is a practice employed by Christians (and folk of other faith traditions) in support of this paying attention. If I remove something I feel distracts me from paying attention to God, to my following God's way of Love, for a season, I reset my attitude, my approach, my attention, for the longer seasons of ordinary time. A short intense period of fasting reignites intentionality for every day.
It's like the monthly returning to the table (in the UCA most congregations celebrate Holy Communion once a month) - we come regularly, but not every day. Regularly coming to the table infuses our every day with the re-membering of the story of Jesus breaking bread with his friends and dying for the sake of Love. And it's the same with our weekly gathering for worship together - this is an intentional gathering to pay attention to remind us of the call to worship God every day, wherever we are.
So, as we enter another Lenten season, I am shaving my head.
I spend a lot of time in contemplation and solitude. I hear a lot of stories. This Lent - this year - I want to do more than sign petitions. I want to respond with actions to the stories of my community. I want to create more spaces for sharing our stories, in order to help strengthen our communities.
I have few resources. Part of the reason for shaving my head is that I spend considerable resources (for someone with not much) on my hair. For this season, then, I want to release those resources to help others. The money I will not spend on my hair in coming months will go to the Cancer Council. In recent years I have heard so many stories of the living and dying with cancer among my community of faith, of family and friends, that at times it feels as if we are under siege. And it makes me angry. In part, I hope to free up some resources so that I can do something practical with that anger. Every time I see my shaved head, it will be like the hunger pains of one fasting - a call to prayer. A call to gratitude. A call to remember I have enough, and can choose to find ways in which I have enough to share.
I don't know what this season of doing without hair will bring about in terms of life beyond this season. I may discover the value of the joy it brings to me to play with my hair, and return my hairdresser's canvas to her. I may decide it really is a distraction I can live without for longer, or that I don't need to spend so much money. We'll see. My going without my hair will not save anyone's life, ease the pain of anyone's grief, or cause the breakthrough in a cure. I can only change me: I am the one person I must continually seek to change.
My hope is that I might discover empathy with those living and dying with cancer; that I will pray with deeper intent; that I will let go of the fear that I don't have enough and embrace the ways in which I have enough to share. For the kin-dom of God in which I choose to live is a dream that all will have enough. It is a dream achievable only when we let go of fear and live with love.