Linda Downing

Holy Week is about the present

The March issue of Oprah magazine espoused something few achieve: De-clutter or simplify life. Oprah, auctioning off her lifetime's stuff, said: ".knowing what you need is more than knowing what you want." That reduced Oprah's needs to her dogs and her books.

What we want changes with time; what we need is our essence. Finding that core is why the week ahead, known in Christianity as Holy Week, celebrates a past happening that makes the present relevant and the future hopeful. Being in the present challenges us. Except for lessons learned, the past is gone. Except for certain generalities, the future is unknown. Those generalities, however, boil down to life and death, the here-and-now leading to what lies ahead.

A poll in the February Charisma magazine found that most Americans want faith in something besides themselves. Some 75 percent of adults seek more meaningful lives, and 56 percent desire to know how faith and spirituality apply to current issues they face.

If position determines faith, we welcome the February findings of social scientists who proclaimed that after decades of study they know that "earned success through work is the secret to happiness." The American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. even released "The Secret to Happiness" video. According to them, opportunity and free enterprise are the gods to petition.

The month before, attempting to combat the fears of those who think his use of the word "inequality" portends socialism, President Obama shifted to creating "paths of opportunity" for the poor and middle class. Regardless of words used, social chasms exist, and as Obama said earlier in December, they challenge "the very essence of who we are as a people."

What if the way we make our living suffices but cannot be called success? What if we are jobless? What if there has been little or no opportunity to do better? Writer Nancy Willard said: "Sometimes questions are more important than answers." Those questions pain us but can lead past our want to our need. Oprah senses that is the true way to simplify.

Holy Week dispenses with questions that only God can answer. Most of us know the bare bones of the story: Around 30 A.D. a man named Jesus, claiming to be the Messiah, rode into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday and the crowds cheered him on; on Thursday he hosted a private Passover supper with his disciples and later that night was arrested; on Friday he was tried in a Roman court, quickly crucified, leading to his death and burial. Saturday was a day of mourning for his followers and celebration for his enemies.

The whole world still takes notice of what some believe is a dead man and others identify as God among us. He certainly failed the standards of "The Secret to Happiness" video and missed the opportunity government says it wants to give us. If we simplify stuff and seek essence, we might find faith and meaning in a man "despised and rejected.a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). Identification with that man means no one is a loser.

When I was a child, our science book said there were nine planets. This past February NASA pushed the number to about 1,700 - and that is just in our galaxy. Holy Week's message is as present as planets in unknown galaxies waiting to be discovered.

Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side.

Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at