While running errands last week, the marquee of a local Catholic church reminded me that Ash Wednesday was Feb. 13 and that the Lenten Season and Easter would soon be upon us.
Regardless of your faith tradition, we all understand that the season of Lent, often closely accompanied by Passover, is an opportunity for reflection and spiritual fine tuning.
Many fast or "give something up for Lent." In some circles, "What are you giving up for Lent?" is as common a conversation starter as: "What do you do?" at a Washington dinner party.
For 40 days we remember and practice our commitment to spiritual growth. We have daily reminders in the exercise of will power to forgo chocolate, gossip, smoking or meat.
Most importantly, we loosen our attachment to even seemingly innocuous or good things that hinder our spiritual growth because we place too high a value on them or because they consume a disproportionate amount of focus, energy or time.
Said another way, Lent is an opportunity to right-size our personal commitments and realign our priorities.
On Feb. 14, the day after Ash Wednesday, the Maryland legislature was scheduled to hold hearings on Senate and House Bills 276 and 295-- legislation that would appropriate savings from the General Fund to the State Crime Victims Fund, by dismantling the state's capital punishment apparatus.
The timing could not be more prophetic.
Just four years ago, the Governor of Maryland led a march of religious leaders to a rally calling for an end to capital punishment in the state. It was a stirring event punctuated by testimonies of faith calling the state in a new direction. This year, on the anniversary of Dr. King's birthday, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous and Governor Martin O'Malley led a packed press conference that had as much the feeling of a spiritual revival as it did the beginning of a savvy legislative campaign.
The timing could not be more prophetic because SB 276 and HB 295 make very different choices in priorities when the worst thing imaginable happens.
Can we loosen our attachment to the old ways when we see they are not serving us well?
Can we loosen our attachment to the old ways when they are hindering our spiritual journey as a people?
When we tolerate and accept as inevitable the documented evidence of bias in the administration of the death penalty, it hinders our spiritual journey.
When we tolerate and accept that some innocent people will be punished by death along with the guilty, it hinders our spiritual journey.
When we tolerate and accept that we will focus more energy and attention on pursuing a single execution than we focus on binding up the wounds of the families and communities that are hurt by murder; and too little attention is paid at the front end to children and families who are lost and hurting, we are hindered in our spiritual journey.
When we support or acquiesce in a capital punishment system which, by its very nature, denies the possibility of redemption, we hinder our spiritual journey.
Can we loosen our attachment to the death penalty?
Lent forces us to ask, collectively as a people: Who are we?
What is our response when people are harmed?
Do we make sure that every possible resource is available to begin the long and difficult healing process? Or do we squander limited human and financial resources on an expression of even well-founded feelings of anger and fear?
To be sure, the people who hurt others must be stopped from violence and inflicting further harm and must be held accountable.
In the end it is about priorities. During Lent we prioritize our spiritual growth over the immediate gratification of the daily temptations that get us lost in the world.
This week, at the beginning of Lent, the state of Maryland will be taking an enormous step in the direction of setting the right priorities for itself and, by example, the rest of this nation.
Who are we? Are we people who prioritize healing over a policy like capital punishment that doesn't work?
So Maryland, what are you giving up for Lent?