I began my recent vacation in Spain during the first week in which the euro was introduced as the new official currency. ATM machines dispensed only euros, taxi meters displayed fares in euros, everyone was using euros, but it was too soon for anyone to be at ease with them.
I saw a woman walking briskly down the street suddenly stop short, take a handful of coins out of her purse, stare at them for a while, move them around on her palm, arrange them in different ways—by size or value—trying to get a literal feel for the new tender. I saw grown men huddled over pocket calculators at kiosks and in bars talking themselves through simple transactions aloud, like children learning to count.
Whenever it was time to pay for something, the world slowed down and everyone became a learner. What had been a reflex the week before had suddenly to be practiced as a fresh, deliberate act.
When people in the ancient world asked to be baptized into the Christian faith, they were not marched straight to the font. They first underwent a lengthy period of instruction and moral reorientation. The human life they thought they had mastered had to be re-learned in the light of the Gospel.
Like people with a new currency, neophytes practiced. They turned over coins of grace in their palms day after day, took time to count aloud each transaction of mercy, attended to the tasks of being human with purpose, approached the ordinary with discipline, an intention of excellence. Only thus, over time, did the disorienting shock of Gospel living become second-nature. Only thus did the faith they had received root deeply, and their witness flower in the world.
The season of Lent originated in this preparation for baptism, a ritual that signaled the end of one life and the start of another.
For us, Lent is a holy opportunity to adopt and undergo a similar converting discipline, to acquire anew what some of us think we already mastered—a fully human life in Christ, the currency of grace.
Perhaps this year, with the world grimly attached to a currency of violence and exclusion, we might use these 40 days to practice some of the things required for a successful introduction of a new tender—a learner's teachability, a certain slowing down, deliberate care with mundane transactions, attention to the sacred potential of the ordinary, an intention of excellence.
The Rev. Mary Luti is Pastor of First Church in Cambridge (Mass.), Congregational, UCC. Focus on Faith is a reader-written column to help others grow in their faith. We welcome submissions from laity and clergy.