Of Saints and Lent

There is a Midrash from the childhood of Abraham that goes like this:

Abraham’s father, Terach was an idol- manufacturer. Once he had to travel, so he left Abraham to manage the shop. People would come in and ask to buy idols. Abraham would say, “How old are you?” The person would say, “Fifty,” or “Sixty”. Abraham would say, “Isn’t it pathetic that a man of sixty wants to bow down to a one-day-old idol?” The man would feel ashamed and leave.

One time a woman came with a basket of bread. She said to Abraham, “Take this and offer it to the gods”.

Abraham got up, took a hammer in his hand, broke all the idols to pieces, and then put the hammer in the hand of the biggest idol among them.

When his father came back and saw the broken idols, he was appalled. “Who did this?” he cried. “How can I hide anything from you?” replied Abraham calmly. “A woman came with a basket of bread and told me to offer it to them. I brought it in front of [the idols], and each one said, “I’m going to eat first.” Then the biggest one got up, took the hammer and broke all the others to pieces.”

“What are you trying to pull on me?” asked Terach, “Do they have minds?”

Said Abraham: “Listen to what your own mouth is saying? They have no power at all! Why worship idols?”

(Midrash Bereishit 38:13)

One of my first memories could be seen as dramatic as this Midrash. When I was three years old, I was fascinated with my mother’s porcelain Buddha. My mom was addicted to the ‘Craft Show’ shop in our suburb of Denver and would frequent it, I think, every week. Therefore, I had my name hanging in Orange Porcelain around my room and the best orange and blue painted Broncos ‘B’ anyone had seen.

Then there was the Buddha. It was about two-feet high, dark green and jolly, yet it always gave me a shudder. The Buddha’s face seemed to find me even when I was in the next room and I would peer around my mom’s bedroom door.

One day, I decided to take the Buddha situation into my own hands. My mom and dad’s room was on the second floor and on the same level as my room. I marched down the hall, picked the green Buddha off of mom’s bedroom dresser drawers. My brothers insist that there is no way I can remember all of this at age three, but I remember that it felt cold and heavy and that the bottom was not painted, so it felt kind of chalky underneath. What did I do with Buddha? I took him right to the top of the stairs and tossed him over the banister. He shattered like Terach’s idols. At my hands.

If someone would write a Christian hagiography of my life, perhaps they could find holy motives in what I did. They would say that I was ‘jealous for the God of my father Abraham.’ They would say that this event caused my family to return to the Lord in repentance and faith.

But the truth of the matter is, I was a toddler doing toddler things. I know because I have had three toddlers of my own. My son Luke, who is two, loves nothing more than to throw his trucks and his sister’s dolls down the stairs. This is what little toddlers (especially boys) do.

If this Lent is any indication, my canonization is still a couple centuries off. I did well with exercise, which I planned on, but in terms of giving up fatty food and sugary drink, I did not do so well. And my prayer life, it just felt dry.

For those who say Lent is a way of ‘earning salvation’ or ‘meriting God’s favor,’ well, they just don’t know any better. To the contrary, it is a reminder of God’s grace because it reminds us of our sins and shortcomings. Forget the burgers and Pepsi. It is the Lenten failures around anger, bitterness, and selfishness that hit me over the head this year. Another yearly reminder that I need the cross so very desperately.

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