Wednesday, March 9, 2011

To Everything there is a Season

I wish I could capture for you the beauty and mystery that is Lent, that I might hold it under glass for you to examine for yourself.  Perhaps I could show you, then, the vibrant colors and intricate patterns on its fragile, fluttering wings, or point out the simple grace and peace of its repose.  Perhaps even the color cones in your eyes would be flooded and it would change the way you see the world for just a moment.   But alas, can I hold repentance in my hand and hand it off?  Can I pin down the sacred on a specimen board and label all its parts?  Will Sh'khinah Glory be poured into a glass and served with tea and cakes?

Recently I heard fasting defined simply as "the practice of abstinence."  The thought delighted my heart.  In a world where freedom is slave-master, in a society built on all manner of indulgence, in a culture inundated with over-stimulation, apathy, and anhedonia, the practice of abstinence is nothing more than a controversial curriculum offered in some schools during sex ed.  But when I hear the phrase, I think of things like humility, repentance, re-sensitization, sobriety, healthy boundaries and gratitude.  I think about creating space for other. I am immediately put in mind of the changing of the seasons, the way that the world sheds its leaves and gives up its harvest to then rejoice in the new fallen snow.   I think of Ecclesiastes, one of my favorite books...

There is a time for everything,
   and a season for every activity under the heavens:
 a time to be born and a time to die,
   a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 a time to kill and a time to heal,
   a time to tear down and a time to build,
 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
   a time to mourn and a time to dance,
 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
   a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
 a time to search and a time to give up,
   a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 a time to tear and a time to mend,
   a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
 a time to love and a time to hate,
   a time for war and a time for peace.

I practice abstinence in many forms throughout the year and I want to practice the ideals behind Lent throughout my life, ideals such as repentance, mourning, letting go, simplifying, and seeking God in specific and intentional ways.  But Lent is special.  As a part of the practice of the Twelve Steps, I am engaged in a constant inventory and [should be] promptly admitting when I am wrong, offering forgiveness and amends where needed as needed so that I carry no unfinished business.  But during Lent, it is as if the whole Church turns its heart toward these intentional practices.  Together we let go of those things that possess us so that we may be mastered by nothing but God.  Together we repent.  Together we embrace the suffering of the cross and of being Christ-followers, which, if we're even trying, is freaking hard, lonely work.  Lent is about inviting the sacred to come home with us, to be a part of our every-day lives, transforming those every-day lives in the process.  Lent is about remembering and tuning in to that which is larger than us and letting it shape the way we live.  Lent is the opportunity to experience need and loneliness and sorrow because these are part of feeling alive.  Lent is about turning away from things that do not satisfy in order to be satisfied by what is truly good, in order to appreciate what is truly beautiful.

This year I practice lent in a couple of unique ways.  One way I am observing this time is by fasting social media - Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, texting and the like (obviously not blogging).  This fasting is intentional because these are the everyday stimuli that can actually flood my brain with dopamine until I am unable to *feel* normal, less stimulating but more beneficial stimuli (like awe and wonder at a sunset or peace and contentment while watching the rain fall outside).  It is like fasting food in that every time I experience an inclination to send a status message or surf a newsfeed, I choose instead to pray, to take the time to read or journal, or reach out to friends and community in the real world where it takes more effort but the payoff is love not just in spirit but in truth.

I also have the unique opportunity to spend a portion of this season on the Mediterranean, traveling "In the Footsteps of Paul and John" visiting Greece, Turkey, and Rome.  It is a trip that requires a lot of sacrifice - intentional abstaining (financially, relationally, etc.) - in order to embrace something remarkable and extraordinary.  And this is the thing that leads me to the most precious part of the Lenten season for me this year...

When I return from my trip, when the Lenten season is over, I will embark on a new adventure, a season of new investments, new relationships, and new work.  I have been praying over ministry opportunities in my church and in the church at large.  I will face vocational transitions that are yet undefined.  I will also be about a season of building, of reaching out and starting over in many ways.  As of yet I cannot know what all these changes will entail, but I know this is the season to come.

So what I have right now in Lent, in a time of abundant time to pray and seek and listen, in a season of refrain, and in a once-in-a-lifetime excursion along the Mediterranean, is an opportunity to be alone with God first, to revel intimately in His presence, His love, His word, His world, His heart, His vision.  In a previous post I casually and jokingly referred to this time as a honeymoon with God, but isn't that what  a honeymoon is?  Isn't it a time of going away, of letting go, of saying no to the world in order to say yes to the building of intimacy?  Isn't that what Lent is all about?  How truly privileged am I, that I have a chance to go and be with God?  

Yet we all have that opportunity in this Lenten season, to go and be with God in a very intentional and specific way.

The practice of abstinence, then, is not so much about the giving-up as it is about choosing very clearly what we're giving-in to, giving ourselves to.  

So, let the world give itself to whatever it desires.  As for me, I will seek to give myself to God.  No other Lover will satisfy and no other Master will give up His life so that I might have life and have it more abundantly.


  1. So, let the world give itself to whatever it desires. As for me, I will seek to give myself to God. No other Lover will satisfy and no other Master will give up His life so that I might have life and have it more abundantly.

    This is wonderfully written. Thank you for saying what my heart was trying to say.

  2. Thanks, GG! We are kindred spirits, you and I. :)


Thank you for your thoughts!