Friday, March 22, 2019

Elizabeth Turnwald Has Something To Say Third Sunday of Lent

The Women Who Stayed – March 24, 2019

In the readings this Sunday, Moses encounters God – I AM – through a burning bush. He reacts how many of us likely would if faced so wholly and tangibly by the Lord. Confused and hesitant, he retreats, hiding his face, for “he was afraid to look at God.”

Fear is not an emotion I regularly attribute to my faith, nor to my experience with the Divine. A Millennial Catholic raised by the children of Vatican II, I have been primarily immersed in a culture of candlelit guitar Masses and sing-a-long renditions of “Jesus Loves Me This I Know.” A far cry from the Old Testament God who viscerally reveals himself to Moses in the desert and calls on him to lead His chosen people out of slavery, my relationship with the Lord more closely resembles the “kind and merciful” Redeemer in this week’s responsorial psalm.

Yet these two images of an infinitely multi-faceted God are more complementary than they may initially seem. Only a Creator Who loves us unconditionally, to the very core of our being, would – and could –  remain “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” while insistently and forcefully calling us to action. The God of this week’s reading is, as always, a God of love, though perhaps one of “tough love.” In a way, so is our Lenten journey.

The first part of our call to action is to fast, to suffer, and to restrain ourselves as we reimagine our positioning and privilege in the world. Lent offers a time to remain still and silent – letting God’s voice work through us, so that in this powerful pause we may see our excesses in a new light. We remove our typical numbing agents, whether they be alcohol, sugar, or binge watching an entire season of our favorite TV show. We shut off access to our usual escape routes, forcing ourselves to confront what we are escaping from in the first place. What new revelations – beautiful, frightening, mysterious – have we experienced so far during this Lenten season? What other routes of escapism do we need to close off as we grow into this time of restoration, abstinence, and solitude?

While the opportunity for reflection is at the core of our Lenten journey, this stillness and its accompanying discoveries cannot remain in a vacuum. In a few weeks, we will leave the desert, hopefully transformed, fortified, and impassioned. Moses’ encounter with God isn’t the end of the story. Though he initially shielded his eyes from the Lord, he eventually lets his human guard down and responds to God’s command. I love that Moses was reluctant. Frankly, it makes him more human to know that he suffered from imposter syndrome as much as the rest of us!

Moses’ hesitation reminds me of advice that a campus minister gave me a few years ago as I was frantically mulling over post-graduation plans, questioning my ability to make any impact on the world around me. She looked me in the eyes, reached out for my hand, and calmly stated:

“God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies the called.”

Those words give us space to pause, to acknowledge our self-doubt, and then to intentionally put our trust in God rather than ourselves. As we continue to walk together during this Lenten season, I invite us to reflect on what we are being called to at this very moment. How can we move past our own imposter syndrome, our self-questioning and fear, and answer the Divine’s invitation with our own message of “Here I am.”

Elizabeth Turnwald is a recent graduate of the University of Dayton, a Marianist Catholic school in Dayton, OH, where she majored in Music and Spanish with a minor in Women's and Gender Studies. She joined the Xavier community in August after moving to New York as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps - making for a sudden and thorough immersion into Ignatian spirituality and hospitality. She can sometimes be found making music with the Xavier Schola at the 5pm liturgy. Liz currently works at the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding and will being graduate school at Boston Collegethis fall, pursuing a Master of Theological Studies. 

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