Monday, March 29, 2010

A Reflection on the Meaning of Lent

Many Christians observe "Lent" and practice "giving up things" for Lent. Some give up chocolate, others give up t.v., others give up soft drinks or coffee or wine or beer.

I don't ever give anything up for Lent - at least not voluntarily. But, this Lenten season, I ended up pretty much giving up two things: coffee (which I love, but which was hurting my stomach) and blogging (which I just lost the desire to do).

It occurred to me tonight that Lent is the voluntary practice of giving up things, because in life we have to undergo and survive the experience of involuntarily giving up things. We have to learn to give up so much that is so important. We have to learn to give up our health eventually, our ability to control this and that, and even our loved ones. It is actually a pretty solemn spiritual discipline, learning to give up things in preparation for giving up what is most precious in life and even life itself.

Life is a joy, and life is a struggle. As OCMS sings: "Walking a line between faith and fear." And, though we have each other to travel with, there is something deeply personal that each of us has to bear. There is a moment when you just plain have to bear it by yourself.

In worship this Sunday, we sang: "Jesus Walked this Lonesome Valley."

"Jesus walked this lonesome valley. He had to walk it by himself. Nobody else could walk it for him. He had to walk it by himself."

When we come to understand this, then we can help each other out, not necessarily by taking the load off of each other, but by understanding something about the load each other is bearing. In that way, we really do help each other bear the load.

These two thoughts are before me: one, about learning to give things up and reflecting on that as being a central learning of life, and two, about the deeply personal nature of that learning process. But, giving up what is most precious can strike us at the depths of our souls. And, what is most precious are those we love.

At some point, even those with faith cry out to God: "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me!?" Faith outlasts that cry in the end, endures it. Or, maybe that very cry is at the heart of faith - completely pouring out the deepest heartfelt experience of life and death before God. And, that painful question gets an answer - someday, it gets an answer, not in words, but in the shocking appearance of God in our midst, the life-giving presence of the Holy. I guess that is what Easter is all about.