OUT INTO THE REAL WORLD by Rector Chris Girata
OUT INTO THE REAL WORLD was published in the Katy Trail Weekly, "The Good Word" Column, March 13, 2020
Chris Girata is the Rector of Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Dallas, TX.
I wasn’t entirely sure how this was going to be received. Yes, quite a few churches in Dallas do something similar to this, but they tend to post up somewhere and invite people to come to them. This was a bit different, and I wondered if this might be viewed as a bit too aggressive. As I walked down the sidewalk, I waved, smiled and shouted to people on their way to and from lunch or shopping or dropping off their kids.
Ash Wednesday — done correctly — is a beautiful way to remember and honor what makes us truly human.
First, let me say that I only experienced polite people. That’s not a small thing. I was a random guy, dressed in pretty unusual clothes, shouting to them about ashes. This could have easily elicited some rudeness. But no, to a person, they were polite — whether they accepted ashes or not. Quickly, we started to gather a crowd, and then, in front of SusieCakes, a line began to form. Person after person waited to receive ashes. People drove up to the sidewalk and waved out their window, asking me to offer ashes in the car. And it was amazing.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the practice of having ashes on one’s forehead, let me briefly explain. Each year, Christians around the world place ashes on their foreheads to remind us that we are all mortal, that we will all die and return to the dust (ash) of the ground. This might seem a bit morbid to an outside observer, but I can assure you that there is no morbidity at all. In fact, Ash Wednesday — done correctly — is a beautiful way to remember and honor what makes us truly human.
I often write and speak about very hard issues. Too often, we are reminded that our world can be scary and unpredictable, and we often seek lives of stability, predictability and security. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeking security, but too often we allow the pursuit of security to cloud the reality of our humanity. Readers, we are human. We live and we will die. If that seems too heavy or scary, then I have a solution.
I’d like to suggest that our meaning and our purpose can never be focused on ourselves or our self-interest alone.
Fear of death is natural, but fear of death should not be our highest motivator. Great thinkers, philosophers and theologians throughout human history have sought meaning and purpose, and we do too. If I may be so bold, I’d like to suggest that our meaning and our purpose can never be focused on ourselves or our self-interest alone. We are made to be connected to one another, to invest in one another and to love one another. When our lives shift focus toward generosity, toward serving the great good, then death will no longer be a moment we fear. When we embrace our humanity, in all our broken beauty, we will be free.
This week, I invite you to go out into the real world. I invite you to go just a little bit outside your comfort zone and try connecting with strangers in ways that stretch your sensibilities. You may not choose to shout at strangers on the street during the lunch rush, but if you take one small step toward another, you might just discover a bit of beauty you didn’t expect.
"The Good Word" Column is published bi-weekly, and can be picked up at the Saint Michael South Entrance.
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