The Christian season of Lent is upon us. Ash Wednesday focused on humans’ sin, our mortality and our need for Christ the Savior. A mournful, sorrowful attitude of repentance tends to be the stereotype at Ash Wednesday services.
My pastor has mentioned many times from the pulpit that the word “repent” doesn’t quite mean what we usually think it means (something like “ask for forgiveness”). Where we usually see “repent” in the New Testament is the Greek word “metanoia,” which literally means “change mind” and more aptly translates in Scripture to “a life-changing turn” or “a fundamental transformation of outlook.”
I am finding the concept of metanoia to be such an archaic one, even in a secular sense. It is so rare to witness or even experience a fundamental change in your mind or outlook on anything. Human beings have always been stubborn and set in their ways, but more and more I feel that we are practically incapable of changing our minds.
With the internet and all of the voices on social media at our fingertips, it is easier than ever to build up a repository of opinions and voices that only confirm what we already believe and perceive in the world. We can effectively avoid and denounce anything that seeks to change our mind. And we are so good at listening to what we already believe and getting encouragement from like-minded individuals about these beliefs, that when we go to convert others to our line of thinking, be it religious or otherwise, we lack a basic understanding of how to connect with those that think differently.
This is especially troubling to me considering the many issues that are so polarizing in our society. The hope for a middle ground wavers as I watch closed-mindedness profess itself everywhere from a bumper sticker to a Facebook post to the news media and all in between. I would love to see our country experience metanoia in such a way that aligns to my views and values, but what I think we need even more is the capacity for metanoia at all – myself included.
When is the last time you genuinely felt a life-changing turn? And how cynical are you about the idea of such a thing? How much have you tried to protect that life-changing experience you had in the past? Have you sought to cling to the memory of it with such desperation that you’ve lost your own ability to speak or hear things that put pressure on it?
I am more eager for this season of Lent than I have been in years. The themes of the Lenten season are ones I feel a desperate need for within my personal life but also within our country. This is a season for self-examination, for testing our views and values and seeing where we are being disingenuous and selfish. It’s a season to be humble and grateful. It’s a season to let go of what is holding us back. And it’s a season to prepare us for Easter – the rebirth and resurrection. The hope for today and tomorrow. Metanoia is key to all of this, and it certainly must be central to our collective consciousness if we ever hope to regain a sense of unity.
Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent contractor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.