So it’s Lent.
Like, wow it is so Lent. I think my psyche has somehow automatically internalized that it’s Lent, because man today has already been tough. Between accidentally sleeping in and being so tired that I physically feel like I’m being pulled down toward the ground, to just feeling an air of slightly increased somberness about my day, I think my soul knows and is feeling the season that we have officially entered: a season of sad anticipation; a season of guilt or hardship; a season of sacrifice; a season of penance; a season of being reminded that we are but dust.
But the thing that I also feel this Ash Wednesday is (with all things that come from God) an underlying hope that feeds my soul throughout these forty days, even when we’re reminded that we killed the Son of Man.
Yeah, I know. It’s heavy. And my heart is feeling it. But there’s something really beautiful about this season as well, because on this Ash Wednesday, we’re recalled to who we really are. We are fashioned from dust, and are animated by the life-giving breath of our Father. Even though we sent Him to His death, by the very death that we imposed on Him, Christ ransomed us from our sin. And because He did so, there will always be an underlying hope in everything — in all of creation, in every bad day, in every heartbreak, in every sacrifice, in every hurt.
I never really understood the distinct beauty of Lent until this year, too, because there is such a common misconception about what it really is (that I have fallen into every year), and that is that Lent is a time when we give up something that we “love” like chocolate, social media, or some small comfort or pleasure. But when we only approach Lent this way we’re reframing it in our minds so that we’re focusing on our misery through these forty days and then the joy that we experience at Easter is the pleasure of getting to have those things that we gave up back in our lives. But guys, the joy of Easter isn’t being able to eat chocolate again or seeing what’s been going on in the Insta-world (can you tell that part of my lenten fast is to give up social media, ha!). The joy of Easter is that Jesus is alive. He’s not dead. He’s alive even after probably one of the most excruciating deaths that history could come up with. And it was all for us.
So during the season of Lent we’re called to greater mindfulness. We’re told to offer prayer, penance, and almsgiving during Lent so that we not only give up something in order that we may free ourselves to be able to more fully give ourselves to God, body and soul, but so that we can also recall ourselves to a daily state of prayer and selflessness. This is a time to re-calibrate ourselves. To shed earthly attachments that are preventing us from loving Him fully, to enter into daily conversation with our God, and to turn outward towards our brothers and sisters who we so readily ignore and cast aside, even in little ways.
So, through the heaviness, how are we going to free ourselves from whatever is preventing us from giving ourselves to God, body and soul? Through the stress and craziness of every day, how are we going to engage Him in daily prayer and conversation? Through our own selfishness, how are we going to better love those around us in our every day?
“It is necessary that at the beginning of this fast, the Lord should show Himself to us in His mercy. The purpose of Lent is not so much expiation, to satisfy the divine justice, as a preparation to rejoice in His love. And this preparation consists in receiving the gift of His mercy—a gift which we receive in so far as we open our hearts to it, casting out what cannot remain in the same room with mercy…”
-Thomas Merton on Ash Wednesday