Actually, if you’re reading this anytime after its moment of writing, it may already have started. Better polish off those chocolates. (I’m working on it.)
OK. You already know I’m talking about the forty days before Easter that Catholics and others observe as a season of fasting, penitence, prayer and almsgiving to prepare for Easter. (The purple season.)
What I keep forgetting, is that despite all dire predictions of having to give up this or that and the darker hangings in the church, it’s really a joyful time. The word itself means “spring”, from the anglo-saxon word, “lencten,” from a word meaning “lengthening.” Which the days are doing, have you noticed? I mean, I know it’s snowing outside and we’re shivering in the teens and twenties again, but we’ve had our whiffs of spring, and the real thing is only weeks away. Really.
My other thought about Lent I’m stealing from our deacon, who stole it from the late scripture scholar Fr. John McKenzie. You know how Lent is associated with the forty days Jesus spends fasting and praying in the desert. You know how many significant events happened to the Israelites there (think Moses and his forty years of wandering). Fr. McKenzie pointed out that one thing about the desert–or really, any wilderness–is that if you don’t focus, you die. Take your mind off where you’re stepping, where you’re headed and how you’re going to get there, and you–get lost, starve to death, freeze to death, you name it. Focus, or die.
(Not to be confused, this day of New Hampshire’s primary, with their state motto.)
All Lent really is, when you come down to it, is a time when we’re invited to keep our focus on what matters. Invited to strip ourselves of everything else, all the things that aren’t essential (you don’t want to be toting a lot of luggage in the desert): Others’ opinions of us. The chase after more money and more fun. These lovely comfortable habits, whatever they may be, that keep us from paying attention to God, that confuse us into believing that because we’re so safe and comfortable, we don’t need anyone else.
Actually, back to New Hampshire. “Live free or die” is all very well on a political level. On a spiritual level, it’s fatal.
Lent helps us realize this. For forty days we’re invited to leave behind safe and secure–where we think we’re free and independent– and step into a wilderness where it’s all-too-obvious that we’re dependent beings. (Ever been lost in the woods at night? Ever notice where your thoughts go when you are?)
We’re invited to recall that no matter how many creature comforts we possess and crave, they’re not, in the end, what keep us safe.
We’re invited, in this season of light-returning, to lighten ourselves of what blocks us from seeing that.