The season of Lent, forty days in which we prepare ourselves for Easter, has been imagined in many different ways, some helpful and some not so much: an outward bound for the soul, a spring cleaning of the soul, a prolonged season of self deprivation and repeating an exhaustive litany of our sins and faults, a spiritually sanctioned self-help program focused on weight loss or the like. At various times in my life I have viewed it as each of these, tending to lean heavily on the self-help side of things.
But I have come to see that Lent is not, in fact, a church approved self-help program. Nor is it about spending 40 days wallowing in our wretchedness, the mess of our lives, and feeling really, really badly about it. I think it is more about paying attention to God within us and God at work in the world around us. About consciously turning to God and opening ourselves up to God. Some have used the graceful image of a sunflower unfurling its petals and turning towards, tracking the sun. I love that image. Given my fondness for small cute mammals, however, the image I get is of the ring tailed lemurs of Madagascar, making their way to the beach every morning and sitting on the sand, arms and legs extended, faces turned up toward the sun, basking in its warmth and light, soaking up the sun’s energy. In my imagination, this time spent in the sun stays with them, warms them throughout the day, influencing their lives even when it is dark.
This Lent I want to channel those lemurs. Sitting in the company of others, paying attention to and turning toward the warmth of God’s radiance—the Light that comforts, consoles, and cleanses. This sounds grand and mystical, and it can be. It can also be much more mundane and every day—like pausing to center ourselves and breathe in a stressful moment. Like being gracious and kind to ourselves when we are in self-punishment mode. Like honoring our bodies as God’s temple. Because God’s constant desire for us is nothing less than wholeness, than health of soul, mind, and body.
So perhaps instead of rotely giving something up or taking something on or engaging in a self-help program, we could sit with the question “what in my life blocks me, stops me from wholeness and health. When God looks at me in love, what breaks God’s heart? What is it about me that has God thinking, “look at her, bless her heart. If she could just see herself as I do, if she could just stop doing X or start doing Y, she would be happier and more whole.” And, having discerned an answer, and with God’s help, move toward healing, changing, becoming more fully ourselves and more fully alive.
So, through the Church, God now invites you and me to observe the season of Lent together. To sit with the fullness of our humanity. To recognize our innate beauty and value and to honestly explore those areas of our lives where we need to turn toward God and change how we are in the world. Join me on this journey, as we sit together on the beach that is St. Peter’s, encouraging each other, keeping our faces towards the Light, soaking up the warmth that sustains us through each day.