spiritual journey

Thoughts on Lent From a Non-Churchgoer

City in Spring, Andrekart Photography / Shutterstock.com
City in Spring, Andrekart Photography / Shutterstock.com

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.

Monasteries of the Heart

"All journeys have secret destinations," Martin Buber wrote, "of which the traveler is unaware." The insight is a striking one. The fact is that ours is an entire culture on a journey. We are all on our way to somewhere without a clue of where we're going or how to get there.

Only one thing is clear: Everywhere we go, there's a rending sound in the air around us. Something, we're afraid, is being torn apart behind our backs, under our feet, in the very center of our national soul. Ask what it is and the pundits will tell you that it's the economy or the political climate or global entanglements and free trade. And, at one level at least, they're right. But they stop short, I think, of the real problem. They'll tell you that it's everything except what people fear it is, down deep inside themselves, but are afraid to whisper for fear they might just be right.

The truth is that something is, indeed, being sundered in our time. But it's not any particular national initiative that's at fault. It is far more serious than that. It is the very fabric of the society itself that is being torn apart: What we knew ourselves to be—the way we went about our lives, our businesses, our educations, our relationships—is fading. Even the dispositions we commonly brought to the solution of issues have changed. We can discuss the pros and cons of torture in the public arena now and never even have the grace to blush. We can plan to slice food stamps for the children of the poor and, in the same breath, refuse to tax the rich. We can simply refuse to negotiate politically and still call ourselves virtuous.

Worse, maybe this concern for the social climate of our lives is not local. Perhaps it's universal. Perhaps the Japanese and the Europeans feel the same—their sense of national identity gone, their feeling of national control gone, their sense of historical confidence gone, their national consensus on national values gone.

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