Features — 16 April 2014 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

As we all go into a frenzy this Easter, let us take time out to remember the reason for the season … it’s not only spring when flowers bloom and birds sing and the wind blows the kites up high … It is the season of spiritual renewal and re-birthing. It is always a good time to reflect on ourselves and to see how far we have accomplished our New Year’s resolutions and if we need to get back on track or change course. The same way we do our annual spring cleaning because we want our house to be clean, we need to do our spiritual spring cleaning because we want our life to be meaningful.

Ironically, the season of Lent leading up to the Resurrection of Christ used to be very solemn, as people did not dare drink, eat in excess or use profanity. The forty days leading to Holy Sunday when Christ resurrected from the tomb had a holiness about it, a sacredness and a sense of compassion and love about it. But that was in time past as now Belizeans do not even know what is Lent, much less respect it … for some it may seem like no big deal … But it reflects what as a nation we have lost …

One of the things that did not occur during Lent or was drastically reduced were the parties, dances and concerts … Well, times have changed because these are held any time of the year and even on a Sunday. Things have changed so drastically that those of us old enough to understand what Lent used to be like are left appalled at the conduct today. But with that conduct comes the consequences.

Lent’s reverence

It is an old belief that if you do not respect Lent, bad things would happen to you … An accident if you going about too much; drowning, if you go out swimming; or any misfortune that could befall you for not keeping sacred the forty days of Lent. So it used to be that people curtailed their activities before Easter, and that is why, come Easter Sunday and Monday, people were back into their excesses of life … from drinking to overeating, to partying till dawn, just as if there had been not inner change during those forty days. I believe ill will befall you anytime of the year, but it seems more pronounced during Lent because of people’s own “superstition.” Lent is not about what befalls you, but what inner house cleaning you are doing.

Now Lent has lost its reverence for many; now you ask kids and even adults about Lent and they do not even know what it means and much less when it is … they just aiming for Saturday’s cross country race or getting out to the cayes from midday Thursday or Easter-egg hunt on Sunday, or horse race in Burrell Boom on Easter Monday … There is no reverence for the time of year and the reason for the season. Resurrection of Christ – is the last thing on their minds!

Some may say it was a religious tradition and an old-fashioned thing, but what is lost in the midst is the fact that when people used to observe Lent, for forty days they forced themselves to learn discipline, sacrifice, respect; and in so doing they tamed their desires and sought to be a more composed individual instead of a more aggressive individual. No matter what your religious or spiritual belief is, forming a habit for 40 days only helped to build character and taught us to live without the excesses of life. This is now missing in our society.

I personally am concerned at the level of personal disrespect people display in public towards each other, the level of aggression and intolerance and the outright lack of reverence for a God-led way of life. As a matter of fact many jump up and look forward to the long Easter weekend, not even realizing it is a religious holiday or rather a Biblical celebration of our Christian faith. Yet some of these same people who are more excited than you and me about the holiday forget that it is not just another holiday … it is a public and bank holiday that recognizes the Christian belief of a people as a nation. Pagan countries, Muslim countries do not observe this holiday. You see Belize is a nation founded on the Supremacy of God, but we now have more anti-God people, atheists, or agnostics … There seems to be a trend to reason away God out of our lives, practices, culture and daily existence as a nation and it has started through the lack of reverence for the Lenten season and total disregard that we stop to take time out to pray and fast with respect for the sacrifice Jesus made when He died on the cross for all our sins.

A nation built on God’s word

I am amazed I can find more people now willing to argue that the Bible and God and Jesus are man-made fiction than are willing to acknowledge that we need to go back to our basic beliefs and accept there is a God, Creator of our universe, who is the invisible hand and the architect of our existence. If anyone takes time out to read about the Israelites as a people and how their disobedience brought them away from God’s blessing, they would understand the trajectory our nation is on. Each time the Israelite people humbled themselves and prayed and fasted they were victorious, prosperous and moved closer to the Promised Land.

Belize is a nation that before it existed as Belize, was inhabited by the native people, who even then knew that there was a greater force that created them and provided their sustenance … They had gods, but nonetheless they knew then that they had to make sacrifices to keep their society blessed. They had to keep harmony between man and nature and had to collectively worship their gods. Of course the conquerors and settlers came and turned many of the natives to Christianity, but for the people then, it was not difficult to accept the worship of a higher being. As a matter of fact the concept of a God was not far-fetched, but a way of life for them.

Today, no matter what religion or spiritual belief our people have, if they would indeed truly submit to the fact that we have ONE Creator, no matter if you call Him, Father, Lord, Jehovah, Yaweh, Jah… etc., the self-discipline this faith would create would regulate the wayward and destructive conduct we see now in our society.

Guard your heart!

Corruption, murder, sexual immorality, etc … do not come from the heart of a man, woman or child that operates under the belief that God created him/her and is the source of his/her existence. Call your God whatever you want, except do not have material things or carnal desires as a god … that is idolatry. Everyone is talking about the right to be happy … Hmmm … It is impossible to expect that life is only about happiness, and more so only your happiness … that is selfish. So men’s carnal pleasures and wants have become their god. It is not about respect for all, sacrifice to move ahead and service to others … Rather it’s as if we have taken on a collective form of selfishness … Yes … selfishness!

If this was not true, people would be more neighborly, more giving and surely less self-centered. From my view, it is as if we have reached a level of internal corruption that we are focused more on what we can get for ourselves, rather than of how we can be of service to each other … because it is in giving that we receive …

I always say a person’s actions are a reflection of that person’s heart. For you to do something, say something and even live by it, it takes an internal process to manifest it and I call that internal process – the position of your heart. Stop and reflect – can you manifest something that goes against your own internal belief and position? To me the answer is no…. a man who goes against his internal self is a man who is destroyed and is just a shell walking around.

I believe that when a man murders, he had to first have the “heart” to do it; when a politician explains away greed, corruption and misconduct, he first had to have the “heart” to accept it so he can convincingly justify it; likewise when a man cheats and steals, to have the courage to so do, he must first have the “heart” to plan it, execute it and to then live with the decision.

People, at the heart of what we are seeing happening today is the heart of each of us. As a nation our hearts collectively reflect the national heart. So while we condemn our leaders for their wickedness and corruption … our silence or inaction to hold them responsible is equally a reflection of our heart and our sense of right and wrong. Most of us only talk and complain because we know that if we did our own self-assessment and examination, at the core we are very much like the same corrupt leaders we elect and thus they are only a sample and reflection of the people who put them there.

The man in the mirror

Before you go about defending yourself, stop to think how many times you have done something to get a “favor” to get something quicker than the system permits, or to get ahead above someone else instead of doing things right, taking your turn and waiting, or even a simple thing like not parking in a no-parking zone or jumping others in the line?

Whatever corruption we complain of in our leaders we can look in the mirror and find in our own actions, the only difference being that the politician have quicker access to the resources, and we don’t! I had an acquaintance tell us at a gathering that she will not criticize the politicians because if she had been in office, she would waste no time making sure her children got scholarships, her friends got land, and while in office she would get all she could to be able to move ahead and have a more comfortable life … She said, she will not be a hypocrite … She wants to do the same thing all our politicians have done to self-enrich. Her rationale was simple: why have the power if you will not use it?

I listened and must admit, she was only admitting what 90 per cent of our population only think about … but this is a reflection of how we have slowly lost our values and service to others and nation. I believe that if I can be of service to others, someday others will also be of service to me when I need it … But you do not give the service because of what you want back … but because it is the right thing to do and you will be blessed.

I challenge our people to use this spring to clean out the darkness of our hearts, and get rid of the hate, selfishness and sarcasm I read about so often on the social media. Stop cursing the darkness and be that little light that will shine … can darkness extinguish light?

Maybe, if we had to do a checklist of what to stay away from we could use the list of the seven deadly sins, namely: wrath – uncontrollable feeling of hate and anger; greed – excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions; sloth – failure to do things that one should do and just being lazy; lust – involves the intense desire of money, food, fame, power or sex; envy – like jealousy, but not only desire the thing but covets it; gluttony – the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste – example food, and pride – excessive love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbor. It is said pride is the deadliest of all, since from it all the others flow….

If you only stay home or go bash in the sun and sand, I pray you all have a blessed Resurrection Sunday and not forget that one man gave His life for us so we may rid ourselves of all sins. God bless Belize!

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