The Divine Hours of Lent

It’s Presidents’ Day, as we all know, and as most of us probably remarked earlier this morning with less than huge enthusiasm. In the old days before e-mail, I used to rejoice in any national holiday, however minor, just because it meant one more day of relief from the mail that used to inundate my desk every early afternoon. Now that the so-called snail mail is no longer the vehicle of choice for most business communication, I don’t even have that little perk to prod me into holiday mode. But that doesn’t mean I can ignore today’s appointed observation either.
The truth is that when our children were school-age, I totally approved of and encouraged Presidents’ Day activities at school. In fact, I probably cut out more construction paper name-tag hatchets than any woman in this county; and I got pretty proficient as well in decorating cupcakes with slivers of cherry arranged on a green icing leaf to look like the upper reaches of a cherry tree, albeit a not yet felled one. I also encouraged the reading of age-appropriate books about Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln et al, as well as the preparation in appropriately decorated binders of small research projects on any or all of them. So I am not unpatriotic in my ennui about Presidents’ Day, just lacking in the proper human stimuli to embrace it actively….except in one thing.
….except that I think that in this year of national elections and in this time of national distress and division, we can not afford to not turn our concentrated thoughts upon that high office and upon the merits as well as the deficiencies of those who have held it.
I am not a political theorist, though like most every other American, I have some theories. I even know for whom I shall probably cast my vote when all is said and done. But that is not my concern today.
In religion, which is my field, the abbot of a monastery or the prioress of a convent or the prophet in a Pentecostal gathering or the Pope in Rome or even sometimes an especially gifted pastor will often say, “It is not I who act. It is the mantle I wear which determines who I am and therefore the actions I take.”
For the truly called, it is a way of deflecting compliments that would seduce the ego from purity and of deflecting criticisms that would divert the mind from clarity. In my many years as a religion professional, I have heard it used over and over again by men and women who would have us know that they as individuals are different from, or other than, themselves for just so long as they wear the mantle of holy and sacred office.
I would not make priests or pastors of our Presidents or Presidents of our priests and pastors. I can not, in fact, imagine a more dangerous thing to do. Nor do I wish the candidates for that office to present as preachers or devout laity or wanna-be’s. That too is dangerous, not to mention exploitative of faith and observant belief. But I do want to be sure the mantle they aspire to is impregnated with my prayers and those of millions of other Americans. I want that mantle so fully prayed over that the minute it slips next January over some man or woman, it is the mantle that determines the actions and becomes the person for so long as he or she wears it. And that, for me anyway, is the proper use of this holiday and every day from now until eleven months hence when the die is cast and the mantle assumed.

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