It snuck up this year, as though I’d almost forgotten about it until I saw friends in another time zone posting Mardi Gras pictures. Mardi Gras is this week? I thought. That means Lent begins this week?! Maybe it’s because I don’t go to church right now, or because I’m not in a spiritual community like I was before I moved cities. But for whatever reason, it came fast and unexpected, and something inside won’t let me pass it up. As much as I disagree with some of the traditional teachings about Easter and various interpretations of why Jesus was crucified, I have always had a penchant for Lent.
Lent is a time that draws out the heart’s ability to draw nigh to your Creator. Of drawing closer to God, to others, to the wide open world around us. A time for spiritual reflection and inner examination. A time to pause. A time for simplicity. A 40-day season containing strong, beautiful symbolism. Death from life. Life from death. The two are inseparable. Hope is reborn, recycled out of crushed pain and heartache. The timing of this season enhances the meaning all the more to me, as we begin Lent in the waning winter, in which it is still snowing as I write this. But we end Lent well into spring.
This year, though not as mentally prepared for it as in years past, I still want to be an active participator. It feels less to me like giving things up or Bible verses and more about intentionally walking in spiritual pilgrimage with your God. Forty days to develop a practice that honors the sacred journey that is our human experience, giving thanks to the One who made us as we walk alongside this light, this hope. Of discovering God in extended daylight that now greets me when I leave my office at 5. As hearing birds’ songs and experiencing each melody as choirs echoing hymns of joy to our Creator. As pondering the reality of death in a way that feels gentle, like a warm flame that is still lit in what otherwise would be perceived as cold darkness. And coming to terms that all things must die — not just people, not just leaves on trees, but the old layers of our past selves that we no longer wish to be in the present. Death to shame. Death to guilt. Death to the silenced parts of ourselves that folded clasped hands on our lap politely, hand raised, waiting for our turn to be heard while injustice lingered and the fire in our heart could be quelled no more.
And all of this gives new life — rebirth — in many hues, shapes, and forms. In the form of infantile crocuses peering their way to the sun’s open arms for the first time. In the form of magnolia buds on trees that brighten once bare limbs. In the form of new lives, a fresh start, a you that’s finally living out the truths of your human experience as you dance in freedom.
This death and rebirth and Lenten practice have brought many meaningful spiritual experiences to my life over the past few years. From 40 days of vegetarianism in 2011 that would become my new daily practice in 2014. From bike commuting those 40 Lenten days in 2013 before I knew how to change a flat tire, to a practice I fell in love with, continuing it nearly everyday since that cold, rainy February day two years ago. From 40 days of sustainability practices in 2014 to now bringing my own cloth napkin and utensils to off-site work lunch meetings, my boss asking, “Did you really just bring your own fork and handkerchief?”
I’m not quite sure what specific practice I’d like to take up this Lenten season, but I picked up yoga again, and am always struck by two words each class: “intention,” as in “set an intention for your practice today,” and “namaste,” as in, “Namaste. The light in me greets the light in you.” So I guess that’s it.
My next 40 days will be filled with intention and finding light in every face. My intention is to holistically live out a centeredness of God and love for the Earth, the water, the stars, and all the people who live underneath the beauty of the cosmos day in day out. I will orient myself to God in a way as to be ever more aware of her/his presence in the Heaven or Hell before me that day. I will honor the “namaste” in all by observing my judgments of others, writing them down even, as to cleanse my soul of myopia and see things from new positions. And each time I catch myself thinking of one of my hotspot judgments, I will find one thing I can learn from this person with whom I likely am disagreeing and ask myself to be open to new perspectives, ridding myself of useless and unhelpful thoughts that detract from clearly seeing the “namaste” in every one.
And maybe if I do that, however imperfectly, I will experience a bit of that new life Jesus talks about. While I’m not looking for it in a church nor pining for that proverbial moment of enlightenment, as if to arrive at a illustrious gem of truth, perhaps I will unknowingly stumble upon it, as a pilgrim, these next 40 days, 40 years, until one day I am on the other side of a beautiful infinity, recognizing God’s face, seeing it for the first time, but knowing it was that face that was walking with us all the way.
Melissa Otterbein is a research assistant at a Baltimore City HIV/AIDS clinic and blogs at melissaotterbein.wordpress.com.
Image: City in Spring, Andrekart Photography / Shutterstock.com