Saturday, March 12, 2011


Earlier this month I sent an email to some college friends asking them to enter into the season of Lent with me. After sending it I knew I sounded crazy in the email. Why do I enjoy Lent? Doesn't that seem like an oxymoron? Who enjoys mourning and sacrifice? Maybe it's because I'm still "new" to the Lent thing (this being my fourth year observing it). Maybe it is because I need "an excuse" to slow down, examine my life, and truly observe a time of contemplative prayer and open hands. Or maybe, it is because a season in the church calendar set aside to allow me to own my sinful nature, my flesh, and my mortality in light of the Cross is exactly what I need. As of late, I've been a bit obsessed with my sins--even struggling to believe that the Lord could accept me after I have rejected him time and time again with decisions I make. But during Lent, I view my sinfulness differently. Lent is a time where I can say "Yes Lord, I do reject you--every day. I am human and broken and sinful and frail." Lent is a time where I have to confess, as one of the author's below says, "Jesus will have to do everything." I can do nothing to heal this sickness that is my sin. Jesus will have to do everything, and I will have to trust Him to do that which He promises to do. And Lent (and then Easter) is a time when Jesus says "Yes, you are human, broken, sinful, and frail. And you reject me daily. But you are my child, and I love you. I have died and risen from the dead to bring you into my presence. I have done what you can't do. So be at peace."

With that, I'll leave you with some of my favorite thoughts I've read on Lent this year. They are a bit lengthy, but I hope they will encourage you the way they have me.

"The search for sanctification never is that far removed from neurotic burden. There always is something half-comical, half-tragic about the banalities of what we “give up” for Lent.
And the knowledge of the unimpressiveness of our efforts in this area can lead us toward either triviality or despair. We can sacrifice the unimportant, and in this way not really care about what we are doing, or we can be crushed by the paltry efforts we make as they compare to the awesome horror of Christ’s death. So the insight that our bodies can positively relate to the spiritual life quickly can become a demanding, unyielding law that deprives us of the freedom the Gospels promise. We enter into a faulty problematic that induces us to ask how much is enough, or that weighs our sacrifices against what those around us do or do not do. In other words, the real, if limited, truth of Lenten restraint finds its perversion in the labyrinthine wanderings of the human mind, an anxiety about the sufficiency of our efforts that only really proves their insufficiency. Lent, when taken up into the cycle of man’s attempts at self-justification, can fix our gaze toward our own doing, and in this way upend the point of the liturgical season: what Christ has done.

Ash Wednesday, then, should be seen as standing guard over Lent, reminding us at its start of the core truth of Christianity: we must give up. We must give up not this or that habit or food or particular sin, but the entire project of self-justification, of making God’s love contingent on our own achievements. And the liturgy of this day goes right to the ultimate reality we struggle against, which is death itself. We are reminded, both by the words we say and the burned palms imposed on our foreheads, that we will die. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Give up! Give up, for you will not escape death. The entire logic of the theology of glory, of all our Pelagian impulses, of all human attempts at mastery and control, are searched out and stripped away on Ash Wednesday. We are seen for what we are – frail mortals. All power, all money, all self-control, all striving, all efforts at reform cannot permanently forestall our death. Our return to dust is the looming fact of our existence that, in our resistance to it, provides a template of sorts for all the more petty efforts we make to gain control of our lives.

In this way, the repentance that takes place on this day also can be seen for what it is. The penitential rite is not a kind of shame inducing act of self-hatred. It simply is a recognition, and thereby acceptance, of our inability to love and do perfectly, which no amount of self-help strategies can change. It points to the utter gratuity of grace, its unearned, unmerited, even inexplicable nature. Repentence, then, is liberating. On Ash Wednesday, our confession of sin really is saying, “we give up.” By repenting, we opt out of the logic that turns the good news of Christianity into another form of bondage, of accusation and moralizing. We do not, on this day at least, pretend to be anything other than the flawed human beings we are. And it is this very lack of pretending that is such a relief to sufferers weighed down by guilt. Ash Wednesday is a day for honesty. We no longer have to fear or elide the truth about ourselves."
From this:

"Jesus will have to do everything. He will have to accomplish it all. I am ashes and I am dust and there is no good in me and I am in dire need and lent has given me clear eyes to see my sin and I am the one broken under all this skin."
From this:

"And eventually, the choosing becomes easier, the darkness lifts, and walking in Jesus’ way is not quite such a struggle…for a while. But the darkness will always return, often unexpectedly. That is why I need Lent, because it bears witness to the reality of darkness, of doubt, of fear, of pain. And it carries me through those real places, real experiences into one that is more fully and truly Real: the Reality of Resurrection, of Light, of Life."
-Kimberlee Conway Ireton