Preparing for the Wilderness: The Season of Lent
Don’t bother looking for Lent in your Bible dictionary. You wont find it there. There was no such thing as the season of Lent in biblical times. There is some evidence that early Christians may have fasted in the time between Good Friday and Easter, but the regular practice of spending the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter in prayer and self-denial didn’t begin until much later in the church’s development, sometime in the period after 300 A.D. Sometime after distance developed between Jesus’ life and the strong belief that he would return at any moment. Sometime after we people of faith began to settle back into the comfort of our daily routines, remembering our passion and devotion to God the way that many of us look back on the fond days of our youth.
We humans are creatures of comfort. We like the finer things in life: comfy sofas to cushion our bodies, good meals to feed our stomachs, fine fabrics to cover our skin. There is nothing wrong with these things- wanting them or enjoying them. But I think that sometimes the comforts of our lives can anesthetize us from our need for God’s care. These things make us feel safe and cared for- if not by God then by ourselves. I also believe that almost all of us are addicted to something. We eat, we shop, we drink, we blame, we take care of other people, and all to fill the deepest longings of our souls. The clearest definition of an addiction is that thing that we use to fill that empty space in our lives that belongs to God alone.
“Our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” St Augustine famously wrote. Our hearts, our souls are restless for God’s presence. Nothing else on earth can fill that longing for meaning but that doesn’t stop us from trying. We eat, shop, blame, worry, and care, plugging the hole if only for a time.
A couple of years ago I had a friend who was invited to participate in a Native American Vision Quest, a coming of age ritual in Native American Culture in which one spends four days and four nights secluded in nature. It is one of the most ancient means to find vision and purpose in life. Before the quest begins, the individual is purified in the sweat lodge, often over many days. On the day of the quest they start their fast at sunrise. They also forgo sleep and food. They give up all that is takes to live in the physical world and rely on the strength of spirit to sustain them for the duration of the quest.
I think Lent is an opportunity to go on something of a Vision Quest. To leave behind those things that keep us from relying on God’s grace alone for all that we need.
As Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Forty days to cleanse the system and open the eyes to what remains when all comfort is gone. Forty days to remember what it is like to live by the grace of God alone and not what we can supply for ourselves. “
The word “Lent” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten meaning spring. Referring not just to the time of year in which Lent occurs, but to remind us that Lent is springtime for the soul.
Last weekend, Pinnacle Youth built a Labyrinth in the Memorial Garden on campus. Labyrinths have been used for over 4,000 years as a tool to re-center ones life. They are often referred to as “body prayer” or “walking meditation” with three parts. As one enters the labyrinth one can stop, reflect, say a prayer, and set an intention for walking the labyrinth. The walk around the labyrinth can be the process of “letting go-“ a quieting of ones thoughts, worries, a letting go of a list of tasks, an experience of letting go until one is fully present in the body. At the center of the labyrinth is the third phase of prayer- “letting in,” letting God’s presence into our lives. When we are ready, the walk out, “letting out,” takes us back into our lives.
As we approach the beginning of Lent, I encourage you to take some time to walk the labyrinth. Use it as a tool to examine and strip yourself of some of the comforts and addictions you are carrying and open your heart to leaning on God’s care in this sacred season.