We hide things from other people, including and sometimes especially from the people we love.
Sometimes our secrets are rather tame, such as our true age or hair color, our penchant for hiding small purchases, the amount of snacking we do, the fact that we're thinking about Sunday dinner instead of listening to the Sunday sermon. Sometimes we have big secrets, such as adultery, financial mismanagement, abuse.
The Rev. Debra Brady of Modesto's First United Methodist Church decided to address the issue of secrets during the Lenten season after reading a book and visiting a Web site by Frank Warren. In 2004, Warren started a community art project called PostSecret -- people anonymously sent in postcards bearing secrets. The rules were simple: The secrets had to be true and never before shared with anyone.
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Tens of thousands of people worldwide responded with secrets great and small, and Warren has used many of them in four books and on his Web site http://www.postsecret.com He's used some of the proceeds to support a national suicide-prevention hot line.
Brady posed these thoughts to her congregation in the church's Jan. 23 newsletter: "I could see how so many people are longing for a community in which they can feel safe being their authentic selves." She said the church would use the theme of secrets during the season of Lent, which started with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 6 and runs through Easter on March 23. She added, "We will explore God's response to our secrets and God's power to accept us unconditionally, forgive, heal and redeem whatever we are willing to expose to God."
As part of that, she invited the congregation to write cards with secrets or other things "that they will like to offer to God during this season." More than 40 cards are on the walls of FUMC's sanctuary, with new ones added every Saturday. Ranging from childish and whimsical to shocking and serious, the cards will be taken down on Palm Sunday (March 16) and put at the foot of the cross until Easter, when they will be transformed in the theme of Christ's death and resurrection -- putting aside old thoughts and habits and putting on the new, forgiven life.
During Lent, the pastors -- Brady and associate pastor Cynthia Hamilton -- have used the theme of secrets as revealed in Scripture in their Sunday sermons. For example, they've talked about Nicodemas, a member of the ruling religious party who used the cover of night to visit Jesus, and the Samaritan woman at the well who found out that Jesus knew all about her secret life.
"Secrets are the things we think we have to hide, when it's the opposite -- if we can get it out, God can deal with it," Brady said. "People feel very isolated in their sufferings -- 'I'm the only one who has doubts; I'm the only one who feels suicidal; I'm the only one who is stuck in a bad marriage; I'm the only one who feels lonely.'
"The Christian community has practices and theology which address people's yearning to be authentic, to be who they are and to work with others."
Besides the sermon topics and posted "secret" cards, Brady said the congregation prays each week for four or five of the people who wrote the cards.
"It's really easy in church to play holier than thou or to put on a facade," she said. "The path of discipleship is coming as we are to God, not having to pretend. If things need to change, it's God who does that; it's God who does the transformation."
Although the cards are anonymous, Brady said people still feel exposed and vulnerable when they see them on the sanctuary walls. But she said others read the cards and identify with them as they share their own fears, job woes, etc.
"We're at least sending a signal to the church community saying we're willing to deal with them; we're ready to pray for them. There's a postcard up there about adultery, and the walls didn't fall down. The pastor didn't screech a sermon. We prayed for the person. I wanted them to have a model of how we deal with these issues as disciples of Christ, a model of presenting it before God and inviting God into the process of transformation and healing."
As part of the season, FUMC will hold a Taizé-style service at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. A Taizé service includes repetitive singing based on Scripture, intended to quiet the mind and heart of participants.
Brady said the service will allow participants "to continue to lay before God areas of our lives where we are longing to be authentic, where we long to be free from the things that enslave us, the things for which we feel guilty or shamed. Many things that bind us are not due to things we have consciously done, but spring from wounds that need God's healing touch."
The service will include communion and a time of healing that includes anointing with olive oil, an ancient Christian practice. The church is at
850 16th St. For more information, call 522-9046.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.