Lent is an interesting season in a believer’s life. Nothing really separates these forty days from any other old forty days, save the church calendar and some reliance on moon cycles that Protestants don’t like to talk about. Lent can be any forty days or it can be no forty days, but it is these forty days, and so we set them aside and go, “Now what?”
Traditions vary on what should be done during Lent. The consensus seems to be “withhold”. Some of us withhold certain foods or habits as a way to symbolise that we are also “withholding” from seeing our lives as ordinary. We fast from the blind incomprehension of being people who don’t realise how grace-drenched their lives are. Physical hunger becomes an echo of spiritual hunger. Physical, mental or emotional discomfort becomes discomfort at the status quo nature of sin and injustice and darkness.
You can heap symbolism upon symbolism. Lent’s forty days is the long walk between palace and hill of skulls; it’s a long, weary sabbath when the night feels particularly dark; it’s the breath gasped at an empty tomb; it’s the breathless, “He is risen.” Lent is the time, however short or long, between realising we need the Lord and realising we’ve already had the Lord all this time. It’s a liminal time: liminal because we need a threshold to realise there is no threshold. In the Spirit we are immersed in God – and he in us.
Lent is a holy reminder, a dream suddenly remembered, seeing a beloved friend after a long separation. It’s both the pure joy of laughter and the most wrenching, aching sorrow, and it’s both at once, much in the same way that the Son of Man can be both human and divine; a burden and a joy we come to share as we remember our indwelling.
Lent is memory: remembering our salvation, which is itself a memory of whose we have always been.
For me, this Lenten season is about trying to remember why I like God. Not love, not obey, not honour, but like. What was it all those years ago that whispered to my soul and set it on fire? Can I find that voice again? Can I hear it over the racket of institutional religion’s voice? Or the dozens of other voices – pain, anger, fear, loss, grief, doubt – that clamour for my attention?
Whether it’s this Lent or the next or the one after that – how ever many Lenten seasons I am privileged and trammeled to witness – I’m sure I’ll find what I’m looking for. I’m sure because I’ve found it before. I’m sure because I haven’t actually lost it.
This is the agony and blessing of Lent: it’s a circuitous route to the place where we started from.