I love Lent.
I know this puts me in several minorities. Brethren are generally not liturgical, and we have a history of rejecting those things associated with the oppressive state and institutional churches. The Church calendar falls in this category, as does prescribed penance, liturgical fasting, and, really, any church-appointed season or practice attractive enough to entice McDonald’s to alter its menu. (Speaking of, how in the world can a spiritual practice that endorses a fast-food conglomerate’s profit-making engine make sense to a child of the Radical Reformation? The Filet O’ Fish really is the height of Constantinian Christianity, is it not?)
Still, as empire-endorsing as it may be, I love Lent. I like contemplation. I appreciate the honesty of repentance and the unveiled truth-telling inherent of the story of Jesus’ passion. We humans are created, contingent, and bent on turning away from the One who created us. Lent has the capacity to walk us through every depth of suffering and abandonment, abuse, oppression, and trauma, to ask us to confess our own complicity. Lent tells the story of God being murdered…and ends with the incomprehensible miracle of resurrection. That resurrection makes no sense without contemplating the muck of human inadequacy and sinfulness from which it arose.
So, you know, Lent is just FUN. It’s a barrel of monkeys over here, contemplating the cold-blooded slaughter of the Creator. How could you NOT love a season like that?
All right, fine. I understand the lack of Lenten popularity. And, if I’m honest with myself, there is probably a sliver of hipster satisfaction in my profession of love for this unpopular season, as if Lent were the latest bandwagon hit indie act:
“Oh, you like Lent? Yeah, I’ve loved those guys since seminary. Like a decade ago. Their new stuff is okay, but do you know any of the older stuff? Yeah, you really don’t know anything about Lent unless you’ve done the giving up of the alleluia. Stations of the Cross, meatless Fridays…it’s life-changing, man. Life-changing. But yeah, I’m on to other stuff now. There’s this new thing. Heard of “Epiphany” yet? Dude. Get on that. Actual ASTRONOMERS bring some crazy shit to Jesus. Frankincense, man. And myrrh. Geez, the myrrh. It’ll blow your mind.”
But hipster cred is not the only reason I like Lent. Another, possibly more valid reason is that for these six weeks, people are speaking my language. People are reading the bible, and praying more, and practicing spiritual disciplines. They’re posting about it on Facebook, and they’re TELLING ME about it in FACE to FACE conversations. For somebody who earns a living by teaching, preaching, praying and leading others into some kind of spiritual discipline, often without much buy-in, this is a huge thing.
This is my job, it’s part of my vocation, and it is a huge part of what fills my head and my heart every day. That a gigantic slice of the world is suddenly interested in all of that stuff makes a huge impression. What I do might matter! Other people might actually be interested in these kinds of things!
Of course, there are other reasons to love Lent. For a bookish introvert caught in a culture of busy distraction, Lent is a blessed relief. During Lent, we’re supposed to slow down. We’re supposed to be more reflective. The frivolity is necessarily abridged, and sitting down to think or pray or write about something serious and life-affecting is not only acceptable but even publicly commendable.
Lent is an out-loud season. It’s when people wear their faith on their foreheads. How many ash-covered eyebrows did you see on the streets this week? How many of your friends have posted about their Lenten discipline? People want companionship and accountability during these weeks. We want to know that this discipline is not solitary, that our faith is not ours alone. We want to draw ourselves closer to God and, in the process, closer to one another. Lent makes room for our faith to be lived aloud, in public, and in community.
And that’s great. Lent requires us to face some nasty truths about ourselves and about our world. It forces us to own up to how much fast-food we’re eating, how many hours we spend actively distracting ourselves from troubling realities, how far we’ve allowed ourselves to drift from a life lived in communion. Lent asks a lot of us. It requires humility and strength, grace and companionship. We need one another to face the honest truth.
So, I’m not giving up Facebook this year, even though I could certainly use a break from that particular morass of inanity. I won’t give up TV or chocolate, like I’ve done before, and I won’t throw myself around the country, like I tried one year. I won’t even commit to sitting in silence – my favorite spiritual discipline in Lent or any other time.
During Lent this year, I’m going to focus on more being connected – not through my phone or Twitter, really, but genuine human connection. I’m going to nurture relationship – with God and with those around me. I’m going to try to be honest about the reality of myself and the reality of the world, and attempt to share that honesty with those around me.
For a long time, I’ve had a self-imposed rule to counterbalance my hermit-like tendencies: to be healthy, I need to leave the house once each day and make plans with someone outside my normal circle of interaction once a week. This has saved me countless times, changed my attitude and brought me joy in ways I could not have imagined. But it is a maintenance thing, and not any particular spiritual discipline. So I’m going to attempt more.
This might mean writing letters, or being attentive to my new housemate, or calling you up for a long-overdue chat. It might mean baking cookies for my neighbors, whom I have long neglected to meet and befriend. It may mean praying for those BVSers I met last week, or engaging that sad stranger in the grocery store check-out line. I’m not sure exactly what this discipline will look like, but I do know that I am tired of the empire keeping me solitary, sad and lonely. I am tired of settling for the weak-sauce of casual acquaintance and passer-by. I’d like to nourish some connection and build up some webs of interdependence. I’d like to try to face the truth of my own disconnection and to dwell in the repentance, pardon, and reclamation of that brokenness.
So, here it is, declared in the presence of God and all ye blog-reading witnesses: I’m submitting myself to the discipline of connection this season. Call me up. Ask me to dinner. I will not say no without a good reason. Expect to be hearing from me in some form or fashion.