Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. As Lent is a season which encourages introspection, it’s usually my favorite journey in the Christian year. I enjoy reflection, and the spiritual disciplines I’ve explored during this season have had a pronounced influence on my Spiritual Journey.
I have to say, thinking about Lent this year has been different. I’ve had a repeated conversation with myself ever since church gurus and denomination folks started talking about “getting ready for Lent” back in early January. It goes something like the script below.
Lent is coming!
Coming? We’ve been in Lent since LAST Ash Wednesday.
Don’t you want to do [uplifting practice] or, even better, use this [thing/product] to mark this season?
No. No I do not. I love Lent, but 12 Months of Lent is too much. I want out of Lent now, thank you very much. Can we do that?
Why don’t you lead your congregation though this Lenten journey, highlighting the things we’ve lost over the last year because of the Pandemic?
What the #!$%!& do you think I’ve been doing for the last 12 months? Can you people read the room, please?
In these troubling times it helps to have support. Come on to our zoom prayer meeting and…
NO. No, I will not. Zoom is the 9th circle of hell and it’s difficult to meditate when no one mutes their mic.
We’re here for you, always remember that.
I’m glad you feel better about yourselves. Can Easter come now, please?
I realize this mental conversation is rather cynical 1, but it’s where I am at present and pretending otherwise doesn’t do anyone any good. The weariness I felt as people brought up Lent or proposed special practices for the season 2 indicates to me that I’m exhausted. And my active dislike for discussions about how to pursue this season is a sign of the low-grade depression this pandemic has me suffering.
I realize my life is actually pretty good. My wife and I have our jobs, our family has remained healthy, our neighbors and friends have found ways to keep connected, and our church community is navigating this season well. My family has strived to help others, and we’ve seen some good things happen. And even with all that, I’m still exhausted and suffering mild-depression.
And then I think of all the people who have lost jobs, can’t pay rent, have to go to work even when they are high risk for CoVid, had loved ones snatched from them by this disease, missed out on an endless litany of societal rituals, or have been front-line health care workers throughout this nightmare. If I’m exhausted and suffering mild-depression I marvel that so many folks are even able to get out of bed in the morning.
And, to be honest, calling people to “prepare for Lent” in this context feels less like an invitation and more like an utter lack of empathy.
Still, rituals and marking time are important expressions of our humanity. And losing them them is part of the reason why I’m feeling lethargic and depressed. So, if you feel like you need something to create a rhythm during this season, I’d like to offer a bit of pastoral advice.
First, one of the traditional practices of Lent is to pick up a new spiritual discipline to mark the season. This is a great way to create a forward-moving rhythm on this journey, but this year you might be too exhausted to strive forward into some new spiritual exploration. So, instead, why not consider picking up one of your “normal” practices that have fallen out use during the pandemic and bring it back into your life? It can be something as simple as “showering before noon,” or, “only eating at meal times.” Or it can be an overt spiritual practice like reading through the Gospels or a set hour for prayer. It’s the rhythm of the discipline which changes our perspective, and it bring back something “normal” in an abnormal time.
Second, if you are considering taking up a fast for Lent 3, that’s fine. Deliberate self-sacrifice can be a wonderful and transformative spiritual discipline. May I point out, however, that we’ve all been on a forced fast for the last twelve months—and it’s sent a lot of us for a loop. So, maybe consider transforming our forced fast into a willing one. If you are used to going out to dinner with friends on Friday night or are accustomed to regular family visits, and haven’t been able to do that for a year, it hurts. During the time which would be otherwise occupied with practices like these, take up a deliberate action in its stead. Tend to plants, read a devotional classic or Scripture, write down your friends’ and/or family’s names and set up space to pray for them or just give them a call to see how they’re doing. Grasping onto something which has be forced upon us and making it a willing sacrifice is a small mental shift, but it can yield good benefits.
Third, if you feel like you just can’t and need to just cry out your lament for all the things lost, do that and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Just remember, true lament is built around two general notions.
- Laments assume there is an order to things, which is why having things out of whack hurts so much.
- A lament leans toward hope that shalom will come.
It’s taken me a long while to even consider pursuing a Lenten discipline this year, and until this morning I wasn’t sure I was going to even bother. But I’ve decided that, beginning tomorrow, I’m going to get up Monday through Friday, do my devotional reading, and then spend an hour creating. I’ll write some sections for The Darned Conspiracy, plot out future chapters, work on some devotional studies, make encounter maps for my D&D sessions, do a bit of world-building, write blog posts, and maybe even work on a sermon or two. I don’t care what I’m creating, I just need that rhythm in my life so I can listen for the beats of Jesus’ Kingdom all around me.
And maybe, one day, we can have Easter.