Friday, March 3, 2017

Dust and ashes...and transformation

It's the first Friday of Lent, and I'm already feeling the weight of these forty days. I never quite feel like I have done what I hoped by the end in defeating bad habits, snapping the attachments to worldly desires, and becoming much stronger in practicing virtue as a Christian.

I know my defects quite intimately at this point in my life, and I wonder why I have not gained greater mastery over them by now. My pride enters in as I become discouraged with my present state. And my pride enters in again as I reflect on how often I need to apologize to a loved one because of my poor habits, my perpetual weakness.

That pride is a real issue, showing a lack of trust in God's grace. It's something I need to shed these next few weeks, because I see how it hinders my relationships with those I love, with God, and with myself. Truly, I really need to fast from that pride, from selfishness, from unnecessary or hurtful words, and from my chronic emotional venting.

How is Lent, this long penitential period, helpful? Why do we need it? Why do I need it?

Life is all about the seasons

Blow the horn in Zion!
Proclaim a fast,
call an assembly!
Gather the people,
sanctify the congregation;
Assemble the elderly:
gather the children,
even infants nursing at the breast:
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her bridal tent.
Between the porch and the altar 
let the priests weep,
let the ministers of the Lord weep and say:
"Spare your people, Lord!
do not let your heritage become a disgrace,
a byword among the nations!
Why should they say among the peoples,
'Where is their God?' "  Joel 2:15-17

In the Old Testament there were periods of feasting and fasting ordained by God. In our own lives, based on the current of our circumstances, there are periods of joy/peace and sadness/worry. Though some question how fasting and abstinence can be transformative when a church is "making you do it", I question why a community would not indeed be better off practicing sacrifices, praying and giving to the poor more abundantly as a body? We're all in this together!

Lent is an observance of Christ's 40-day fast in the desert (Matthew 4) after his baptism, so it is entirely appropriate that the church as a community would follow the Lord on that journey before celebrating his resurrection.

The joy of Easter

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their way,
and sinners their thoughts;
Let them turn to the Lord to find mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways - oracle of the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:6-9

I never in all my life appreciated Easter as much as I do now after observing Lent. The joy I have at Easter is quite different from the complacent feeling I had of old when the day would pop up on the calendar with no preparation on my part. Since I started honoring Lent, I have realized that preparation is everything. This period of prayer, fasting and almsgiving - though never without its struggles for me - makes one see Easter as it truly is: the most important and joyful day on the Christian calendar.

It's a journey

For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance. Timothy 4: 6-8

Life is a journey. We make mistakes. We celebrate successes. And then we fail again in the same old pattern. The point is that we don't give up. I would be lying if I claimed I never dreamed of giving up - on my dreams, on my responsibilities, on something as small and nettling as housework to something as big, beautiful and challenging as my faith. But I don't. I journey on. We all do, bravely. Our paths are undoubtedly circuitous and often wind back on themselves through the brush, but when we fall and scrape our hands and knees and splatter mud in our faces, we strive to get back on the right track. This season is about turning back to God, something we have to do again and again in our lives unceasingly. Lent is a reminder of this awesome, exciting, daunting, difficult, hopeful, communal, blessed, charitable, familial, grace-filled journey of life in which we seek to become the best of ourselves, conquering our weaknesses with much love and support from friends, family and God and growing in goodness and peace, helping others - most importantly, the poor - along the way.

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