Last Sunday was the first day of the time of fast in the christian Church, or Lent, as it is called by the Catholic Christians. The time of fast leads up to Easter, the holiest event in the christian Church when Jesus, Issa, was crucified, according to the Gospels of the Bible’s New Testament. In the New Testament, it is said that Jesus fasted for 40 days in the dessert. But today, I should mention that in most christian traditions, fast is not longer practised literally; yet, it is an important time of the year, a time of reflexion and prayer. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, fasting is still common today. Yet, even if the physical restraints are not emphasized as rigorously as among Muslims during Ramadan, leading up to the beautiful Eid-ul-Fitr, the religious principles about fast are the same in the two religious. fast is a time of reflection, prayer and renewal. It is a time of realizing what is most important in one’s religious and spiritual life, and one’s relationship with fellow human beings.

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to watch the TV transmission of a religious service in St. Nicolai Church in Lidköping in Western Sweden. The theme was ‘the road of love’; how to see what is right and good. Nothing could be more important during fast , or any other time. It is the key theme of any religion at all time, every day and every minute.

The story from the Bible for last Sunday’s sermon was about a poor blind man, who was healed when Jesus and the disciples were on their way from Jericho to Jerusalem, Jesus’ last journey before his crucifixion. The blind man asked for mercy and he was healed because his faith helped him. He had lost his eyesight but now he could see. What could he see? The answer is: the blind man could see that love wins over evil; love wants all to be included in God’s holy community in the world we live in. The deeper message of the miracle is that we all have a duty to work for an all-inclusive and equal life in love for each other. Jesus opened the eyes of the blind beggar on the roadside so that he could see – so that he could see the ‘road of love’.

In today’s political debates, some parties have spelt out goals about solidarity and equality, especially parties on the left and centre of the political spectrum, the social-democrats and socialists, and also communists. Everyone must be included and no one left behind, they say. Today, even the Conservatives in UK, Norway and elsewhere use such terms in their slogans. It is perhaps obvious, because politics is meant not only to help the wealthy, but indeed the poor. In religion more so; we cannot imagine a God without mercy; God is mercy and love, it includes all people, indeed the lowest, the last and the least.

The message about equality in politics is based on an understanding that every person has the same value; those who have more should share with those who have less; those who have nothing must be helped by those who have more; all should contribute for the common good in a world striving for justice and fairness. This thinking has its roots in the texts in the holy books, the Bible, the Quran, and other religions.

In the sermon I watched last Sunday, Pastor Anders Kjellqvist emphasized three pillars: faith, hope and love – and greatest of them is love. Without love for others, we will not be able to include everyone in the community and society we live in, and without working together, human beings cannot survive and prosper, said Kjellqvist.

There are other ideologies, too, those who say that ‘every man is the blacksmith of his own happiness’. To some extent it is true. Yet, it helps if the ideology and belief of a society, with the religions, emphasize solidarity with the poor. Since we all stumble and fall sometimes, we all need support to get up and go on. From time to time, we all need to receive help from others – and all the time, we need to offer help to others.

We are in the month of February, which is not only a month of fast , but also a month of festive Carnivals in many countries. And yesterday was Valentine’s Day. Both events have roots is Christianity, emphasizing love and community with fellow human beings, indeed those closest to us. We may not like all aspects of those events, and in our modern time, they take new forms that are not always in line with old traditions; they may become more secular than religious. However, that should not obscure the messages that lie behind the events. Many traditions and activities even of religious events are secular; the religious part is only one part of the way we observe them. There is no harm in that. Is there?

The late Norwegian professor in social medicine, Per Fugelli said that most days are ordinary ‘Wednesdays’, not ‘Sundays’. Most days in our life are working days, not feasts with balloons and fireworks, not holidays, family events, or religious celebrations. Most days include daily chores and challenges, sorrow and grief, but also pleasure and fun, dreams and aspirations, and much more.

In his books, speeches and TV appearances, Fugelli tried to give courage and comfort to people; he gave us simple words of wisdom for our life’s journey. In one book, he underlined that we must accept ‘good enough’, not excellence. He stressed that we must look at each other horizontally, not vertically. We must become more equal and inclusive and we must try to live together with everyone. He was a spokesman and protector of immigrants who had come to Norway and Western Europe recently, reminding us of how important it is that we are welcoming and kind to newcomers anywhere in the world. We must love all our neighbours and fellow human beings.

Fugelli said he wasn’t religious, but he had all the qualities of a human being speaking God’s message of love, love of fellow human beings. About the life hereafter, Fugelli said he didn’t know what would happen, but he was curious, hopeful and optimistic.

Now, at this year’s time of fast , Lent, we should all take time to reflect on what the most important aspects of our religious belief are, be it as Christians, Muslims, or believers in other religions, or seekers and searchers. We know that the road of love is the most important concept; love of God and fellow human beings in our efforts to make life better and more equal for everyone.

I pray that the simple concept of love and everyday action becomes the focus of this year’s time of fast , Lent. We should ask all the difficult questions, too; search our souls, repent, reflect and improve. But first and foremost, we should forgive, show mercy and indeed, love. The least we can do is to see and recognise each other. In the end, it is the outstretched hand, the positive actions and intentions that count, in all religions, in all human behaviour, always.

 

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.

atlehetland@yahoo.com