MattAndJojang's Blog

God. Life. Spirituality.

Why I Love Lent

with 8 comments

Lent
I wasn’t raised in a household that observed Lent and only began to get into it once I was introduced to the more liturgical traditions while at seminary. My mother always thought it odd that I would observe this season believing that one of the finer things about being a protestant was not having to do dreary old Lent.

However, Lent has become my favorite season and Ash Wednesday my favorite Christian Holy day outside of Holy Week. Having someone look you in the eye with love and tell you that you are going to die is powerfully moving, and quite beautiful, especially, I suppose, if that day doesn’t seem too close.

“Death is the mother of beauty. Only the perishable can be beautiful, which is why we are unmoved by artificial flowers.” Said Wallace Stevens.

Being reminded that I am perishable, that I am dust and that I will return to dust serves to awaken me to the fact that I am on that beautiful journey between dust to dust that we call life. I, like those dry bones in Ezekiel, have had life-breath breathed into me. Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent startle me enough to consider that this very day might be a good day to look up from my day to day concerns, as unimportant as they may be, and to zoom out the lens and to look at my life — where I have been, where I am going, and if all is well with my soul right here and now.

In Lent we observe the 40 days that Jesus wandered in the wilderness filled with trial and temptation. As it is with most of us, my personal sojourn often is located in the wilderness; winding within uncomfortable and uncertain terrain filled with temptations and trials and sense of alone-ness. At some point in my life, however, I came across the words of another sojourner found in Psalm 139: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” the psalmist writes, “If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

Over time, the testimony of God’s intimate presence and love found in this psalm has become my own, and, while it did not, and has not relieved me of my wilderness experiences it allows me to understand my struggles in a different way, to feel less alone and to redeem my life as a valid and, even valued, part of the wider sacred story of God.

Maybe that is why I love Lent. In this season it is permitted to reflect on the pain in our lives and to even acknowledge that there are times when God seems utterly absent. Christians spend their lives between the words of Jesus that ask God, why have you forsaken me, and the others that proclaim into your hands I commend my spirit. The testimony of Psalm 139 is that no matter where we go, or what we do, whether we sense God, or we don’t – God is. God is Present.

Lent offers us the opportunity to tear away all that would blind us, or numb us to that reality. For some that will come through fasting from mindless consumption of whatever distracts us; for others it will come from radical service to the neighbor; but what is most important about Lent is that we make time and space for an awareness that God who is with us and loves us – even right here and now. It is in the telling of our stories that God is revealed and Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection become real – all of our lives become – the bread and the cup – elements of eternal life amidst the dust.

— Paul Brandeis Raushenbush

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Written by MattAndJojang

March 13, 2014 at 7:46 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Oh Matt, there is so much in this. My thoughts first go to Brother Lawrence “That all bodily mortifications and other exercises are useless, except as they serve to arrive at the union with GOD by love….” and ” so that he passed his life in continual joy, yet hoping GOD would send him some suffering when he grew strong enough to endure it”. I live a life without much suffering, in fact full of relative luxury. I cannot appreciate how a statement like this sounds like to someone in your position, and so I would never try to comment. However one thing that did strike me was the “Death is the mother of beauty” bit.
    It reminded me of John O’Donohue’s perspective on death. He asks the reader to imagine talking to a 6 month old foetus in the womb. He asks us to explain to the unborn child that in 3 months time it will be banished from the place of warmth and safety and that the cord that is and has been life to this life will be severed – surely the child would believe it is going to die……. an interesting perspective. I’ll leave it at that.

    Senan.

    Senan.

    March 14, 2014 at 3:20 am

  2. Senan, Bro. Lawrence’s attitude is typical to that of the great mystics and saints. They wanted to suffer to share in the sufferings of Christ, and to be in solidarity with suffering humankind.

    Believe it or not, in spite of what I’ve gone through in life, I still believe that I’m fortunate than most people (especially than most of the people in my country who live below the poverty line!). Yes, I’m chronically ill but I live in a comfortable house and have all of my needs taken cared of by a loving wife.

    Why some people suffer more than the rest of us is a mystery. But the beauty of our faith is that, because Christ suffered and died, suffering and death has been transformed – it’s no longer a source of shame and defeat but a doorway to victory!

    John O’Donohue is right: I can just imagine how fearful a child is just before he is separated from the warmth and safety of his mother’s womb. In a similar way, most of us are fearful of death, because we don’t know what lies ahead of us after our life is ended.

    But I believe that death is just the other side of the coin of life. In fact, some Zen Masters would say that life and death are one!

    Our life is essentially a journey of letting go, and at the final moment of our life we are ask to make the greatest act of surrender – letting go of our life to the hands of God – to experience a much more wonderful life that we can even barely imagine!

    — Matt

    MattAndJojang

    March 14, 2014 at 8:44 am

  3. Beautifully put, and I forgot to say thank you for the original post – worthy of a ‘copy, paste and read again.’
    Senan.

    Senan.

    March 14, 2014 at 12:51 pm

  4. It’s okay, Senan. Don’t worry about it. Just happy to be able to share my thoughts and reflections…

    — Matt

    MattAndJojang

    March 14, 2014 at 5:07 pm

  5. Of all the rich images and suggestive thoughts here, what most caught my attention was this from Wallace Stevens:

    “Death is the mother of beauty. Only the perishable can be beautiful, which is why we are unmoved by artificial flowers.”

    I suspect that thought could be extended in a multitude of ways. Artificiality is the enemy of life wherever it appears – or so it seems to me. Thanks to you, I have the opportunity to think about it for a while. 😉

    shoreacres

    March 15, 2014 at 8:39 am

  6. So true, Linda.

    I also hate anything artificial – especially insincere people. I usually steer clear of insincere people. They drain the life out of me.

    Some people would find the quote a little morbid. But for people who have realized the evanescence of life, it gives people a sense of urgency to live life to the fullest; and, in the process, makes people realize how beautiful life really is!

    No wonder, the Psalmist prayed:

    Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.

    — Psalm 90:12

    — Matt

    MattAndJojang

    March 15, 2014 at 10:03 am

  7. I have to admit that I dread the arrival of Lent. And for the first few days I continue to dislike. But once I settle into it (as I have now) I appreciate it as the beautiful season it is, losing any sense of loss over my petty privations.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Bill

    March 21, 2014 at 8:28 am

  8. I know what you mean, Bill. But you’re right: once we get settled down, we begin to see the beauty of this season of Lent.

    Personally, it’s one of my favorite seasons in the Church calendar. For one thing, the scripture readings in the lectionary are simply beautiful and inspiring, giving me the opportunity the deepen my spiritual life.

    May we all have a meaningful Lent, overflowing with the love and grace of God…

    — Matt

    MattAndJojang

    March 21, 2014 at 9:39 am


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