Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn, turn to the Lord your God again for he is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, and ready to relent. (Joel 2:13)
These were the words of the prophet Joel offered to us on Ash Wednesday inviting us into a particular perspective. Reference to tearing garments in the Old Testament was often associated with death and grief, loss or regret or remorse or lament or sorrow. Often the feelings of anger and indignation were also expressed. It was an outward or symbolic act to express a deeply disturbed state of the heart (See references below).
This image is offered to us not for us to literally and deliberately tear our clothes but rather for us to recognize and pay attention to realities in our lives that have got out of shape especially the ones that have breached relationships between ourselves and our God, between ourselves and others and within ourselves when, at God-given moments of insight, we recognize some way in which we have compromised our integrity.
At this moment the world looks with horror on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is a “tear garment” event. How could this happen? How could humanity come to this? Certainly, from a faith perspective, this is not acceptable. Another contemporary “tear garment” event is Global warming/Climate change. Pope Francis, through his encyclical “Laudato si” and the Synod on the Amazon, invited the Church and all people of good will to, as it were, “tear garments” and deeply lament the destruction of creation as a result of irresponsible behavior on the part of human beings. In Guyana in recent years we have had public conversations about violence, especially violence in the home and against women; we have seen troubling events in the arena of elections and governance; there are clouds hanging over the hype about oil revenue. These are some of the “tear garment” matters that are with us and we ought to be troubled and indignant.
The words of the prophet Joel on one hand ought to prompt us to become more aware of the tragic events in our humanity and to recognize and identify the perpetrators and the victims associated with these events. But the text is offered to each of us: let your hearts be broken, your garments torn. While we can lament the invasion of a country the micro expressions of this is when in traffic we “bore in” or when we play music loudly and encroach on the space and peace of others. We can shake our heads at the prevalence and gravity of violence associated with others but our hearts ought to be broken when our own language is harsh and we speak in tones that are aggressive, intimidating and judgmental.
For each of us in these days of Lent as we can recognize and own up to the elements of lament in our lives, we will be able to turn to the Lord, plea his mercy and his blessings upon us that the ways to new life will be open to us. For us as church, my wish is that we use these days to take up Pope Francis’ invitation to Synod. Pope Francis laments the fact that over time the Church has distanced itself from its original character and identity of Communion, Participation and Mission. My wish is that in our parishes and our regions, in these days of Lent, that we create the opportunities to prayerfully reflect on the Church we would like and ought to be.
David, when Saul and Jonathan were killed (2 Samuel 1:11–12); Elisha, when Elijah was taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:11–12); Job, when he was bereft of all he possessed (Job 1:20); Jephthah, when he learned the result of his rash vow (Judges 11:34–35); Mordecai, when he learned of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews (Esther 4:1); Ahab, when Elijah pronounced a judgment against him (1 Kings 21:27); and Paul and Barnabas, when the people of Lystra began to worship them (Acts 14:14). [gotquestions.org]