It is Lent. Already….Well that came quickly!
I must say, this week I have spent several hours in deep contemplation of this season. On the one hand, it is a penitential season—a season where we come to terms with our own failings, brokenness, sin and pain. On the other hand, it is a season of contemplation, reflection and meditation. The tradition finds its biblical roots in the story of Christ’s temptation in the desert; Christ’s 40 days and 40 nights of personal searching in the wake of his own baptism. In some small way, we reenact that in the coming days. Often times this takes the form of some small self-designed fast—giving up meat, or chocolate, or television, or soda pop, or coffee (okay, so not all of these are small!). Other times, this takes the form of a discipline—praying more regularly, reading scripture more regularly, spending more time with loved ones. All of these disciplines are good—just make sure that they actually mean something and aren’t throw-aways!
I would also caution from making this a time of guilt, or for that matter, restricting Lent entirely to confession and penitence. We can go overboard on our focus on penitence and confession, and in doing so, completely miss the point. The point of Lent is not to make us feel bad for what we have done, or left undone. The point of Lent is to present our burdens before God so that we can let them go. In a very real sense, it is about finding spiritual healing. I would say that this takes a certain amount of humility, and let’s face it, that does not come easily to most Americans.
Finally, we are taking a very particular focus with our Lenten journey this year at Covenant. We will be focusing on Mystery. At first glance, that may not be something you immediately associate with confession or repentance, but when you consider that point about humility, I think that you will find that Mystery fits in nicely. One of the deep seeded problems of our religious tradition is an over reliance on having clear answers. I think this is a result of a reformation mentality that says, sola scriptura, in the bible alone can I find all the answers. Frankly, in the reformation there were many lost babies in our over-exuberance at tossing out old bathwater! I believe that a healthy regard for mystery was one of those casualties. We could travel back even further in history to the great schism of 1054 to find that the break between Eastern and Western Christendom left the West lacking a healthy respect for the divine mysteries. If you don’t believe me about this, just try picking out hymns for a protestant worship service that leave space for mystery! Not Easy!
There is a certain amount of arrogance to imply that we indeed have all the answers, or at the very least have the ultimate reference book to answer all questions. I often think that many of our modern problems are the result of desperately trying to force the square peg of a biblical answer into the round hole of a modern reality. It is this arrogance that will be the target of our Lenten journey. The hope is, that with a season dwelling on divine mysteries like the Trinity, Incarnation, Prayer, and even Death, we will come to foster a deeper sense of humility that helps us not fear the mysterious divine, but revel in it!