Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lent 2017, Day 1 - What is Lent again?



Well that was quick.  I didn’t even get through one day.  What the hell is Lent about again?

A few days ago, I read a post over at Internet Monk – Another Look: Lent is not about getting better.

The 1st 2 sentences:
"Lent is not about getting better.Lent is about preparing to die."
Boom.

The post proceeds to question the narrative of Lent as primarily a 40 day exercise in spiritual recommitment.
"Dubbed “adventures,” “training,” “journeys,” “discipline” or “formation,” the focus was more on getting better, stronger, more mature, more capable.  Casting off death so as to become more alive.  Stripping off the sin that so easily besets us and running a good race to the finish.
I don’t know."
Me neither.  I really don’t.  These dubbings are fine as far as things go, but Lent has to be about something other than 40 days of trying extra hard, right?  What possible purpose could a mark of ashes serve in that narrative?  None as far as I can tell – any connection is superficial.  No, effort and intentionality are not the enemy.  But our trying, our plans, our good intentions, our self-improvement projects – none of it alters the fact that the bodies through which we perceive existence are going to die. 

Ash to ash.  Dust to dust. 

And if Lent is about that instead, well, then maybe our attempts at devotion (noble as they may be) are out of step with Lent’s meaning.  Maybe they’re even counterproductive when it comes to the particularity of Lent because Lent is about something else.  I know that a well-intentioned giving-something-up-for-Lent has a liturgical history, but can it actually get in the way of that “something else”?

Enter the Walter Bruggemann Lent devotional that I’m reading this year – A Way Other Than Our Own.

Right away, a different vision and Lenten purpose is presented:

“But this is a God to whom a turn must be made, a God of demand, a God of demand ready to be a God of grace…not just hard demand, not just easy grace, but grace and demand, the way all serious relationships work.” 
“The imperative is around four verbs, “seek, call, forsake, return,” good Lenten verbs.” 
“Lent is a time to consider again our easy, conventional compromises and see again about discipline, obedience, and glad identity.”
Sigh.  I can't help but hold these two hermeneutics in tension.

In past years, I might’ve brushed off the Internet Monk approach as morbid and pointless in favor of Brueggemann’s approach.  This time around it’s pretty much the opposite. 

Are these two approaches at odds with one another? 

What the hell is Lent about? 

Is this not knowing part of it?

I can’t say why, but as I pondered this a post from a few years back by the always perceptive Richard Beck came to mind – Love is the Allocation of Our Dying.  The post had nothing to do with Lent.  Not directly anyways.  It was posted in mid-September.
“Life is a finite resource always slipping away.  Every minute that passes is a passing of life, a movement toward death.  Every moment we are being expended and used up.”
“Because to love other people in small but tangible ways over a lifetime is a way of dying.”
Maybe this is how these two seemingly contradictory viewpoints can be held together, even if only loosely.  It seems misguided to suggest that Lent is intended as a season where we simply sit around and think about death (although such sober meditation is far from unnecessary).  No, there is the matter of being.  Of existence.  What shall we do?

After the hope of advent and the vision of epiphany (and maybe Lent isn’t supposed to make sense except that it proceeds from these?) we resolve to love as the allocation of our dying.  It is the form that our dying takes, and the form that reveals just how much we don't want to die.  This is hard.  Sometimes it is pleasant and sometimes it is not.  We will fail.  We will both lack the imagination to envision what such an allocation looks like and will fail to do what we can imagine.  Even our successes are usually riddled with the anxiety of death or ego.  

Our own successes cannot save the world.  Or ourselves.  

We face this.  We allow ourselves to dwell in that for a moment.

I don’t know.  Just thinking out loud.

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