Today is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival. The last festive day before the forty days of Lent. It’s hard to imagine letting the good times roll in our own communities as Putin’s tanks roll toward Kiev. They are already in Kharkiv. The Russians are committing war crimes, while Ukrainians fight for their country, for their very lives.
Pandemic, xenophobia, racism, insurrection, invasion, selfishness, cruelty.
“Where is God?” in the midst of this horror we cry. Yes. This is a good question. Not the very best question, but a very, very good question. Asking this question creates a vacuum that necessarily attracts and speeds toward us every answer, no matter how profound or insufferable. Because answers make us feel better. They reassure us. Even the answer “There is no God” is reassuring because it is definitive. One less thing to worry about.
We have had too much to worry about. As people. As parents. As political animals. As religious creatures. As breadwinners. It’s almost too much to write about, to think about. It’s understandable to want a bit of distraction from the news. Something away from social media and our phones. Will we feel guilty for it, for not paying proper attention, to participate by means of awareness, of knowledge of the horrors that go on only a few blocks away or over the horizon?
Worrying about God seems just one more thing. We can accept an answer or we could do something else. We can understand that the answers, themselves, are distractions. They give us something to hold in our hands, something just weighty enough that we can squeeze and rub our fingers around, like a smart phone.
If we accept Lent as significant to us, to our self-understanding, then we accept the day before as significant, as well. We accept the time before Lent as a time of certainty. Entering Lent, tomorrow, let us enter a new uncertainty in this uncertain time.
When Jesus enters the Wilderness for forty days, he is uncertain and we do not know what will happen to him until we are told the story. Arguably, nothing good happens to him. Where is God? God does not appear. And the story, found only in the Synoptic gospels, tells only the bare minimum.
Uncertainty isn’t necessarily doubt or agnosticism. Uncertainty is the tension of the indefinite, the intangibility of the absolute, the absence of the sure.
If we are able to allow, to permit the uncertain in our lives to become familiar, then we can approach the unknown in new ways. Where is God in relation to this pandemic, to Ukraine, to America, to our neighbor’s selfishness, to our own lives?
I’m not going to make you feel better with an answer. I’m going to say you should eat something. Have some King Cake, some pancakes, some Fastnacht, some paçzki, some saltkjöt og baunir. Eat something, spend time with loved ones however you can, someone who certainly knows you.
Because we don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. But we can certainly hope and work for Ukraine’s survival in a season of certain uncertainty.