My friend Joseph sent me a message about Lent the other day because he knows I observe the church calendar (when it suits me) and the season is drawing near. His point in his note:
“Of course one should stop doing a bad thing if he’s _been_ doing it. But the virtue of repenting from some sin is not the _same_ virtue as voluntarily giving up a _good_ thing as a spiritual exercise.”
His message made me consider why I started (and stopped) observing Lent with some form of fasting or “giving up” things. And I found it to be a lovely progression that mirrors my growing awareness and reception of (wait for it) God’s love for me. To wit:
- I think when I first heard of & understood what Lent really was, I had a young lifetime of bad deeds to repent, and it seemed to me good to observe a season of penitence. Not repentance exactly – – because I think as a much younger woman, I went on doing many of those things for which I was sorry. But Lent at least reminded me that I ought to be penitent..
- Later, when I had truly repented the evils I had done, Lent seemed like an important season – – not necessarily being punished for my sins – – but being aware of them and choosing to suffer for them in some small way, at least to acknowledge that it was real harm done and real reason why I ought to suffer.
- Then, when I began to understand and accept a little bit of how Christ loved me, and how his suffering was evidence of that love, I think the season of Lent was a bit of uncomprehending shock at the very idea. I felt bad that sinless Jesus suffered what he suffered because of what I had done, and felt I should take part in that suffering.
- And as I came more fully to walk in Christ’s love every day, I realized that I wanted to share in his suffering; Not as payment for my sins, but to stand in union with the Savior who suffered for all the world, to show his love. I wanted to “fill up in my body the sufferings of Christ,” as Apostle Paul says (Colossians 1:24).
In all the seasons, I was ever moving closer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And I think each one of the seasons was necessary to shove me forward to where he was and where he wanted me to be. I don’t think I could have skipped any of the seasons and arrived where I am… And I know that where I am is only another and deeper depth – – but that his love goes on fathoms deeper still… In fact it never ends. But while I have the chance to progress down toward it, I will.
Which brings me to these Lenten seasons in my life as a grown-up, or as Richard Rohr would say, in the “second half of life.” It came to me on my joyful walk with Jesus that he had saved me not just from my sins, but from this idea that I was somehow separated from God, that there was some force in this world that had snatched me out of his hands. This separation was wholly in my mind. Now I know that all sins, past, present, future are forever forgotten and have been forever forgotten and will be forever forgotten by God – – and must be by me.
NOW there is no condemnation for us (Romans 8:1)– – and now is the only moment we have. There never was any condemnation – – we were home before we started, as our beloved Robert Farrar Capon says. I realized that observing a penitential season, for me, who is filled with such a great joy that there can be no room for sorrow, was not only unnecessary, but damn near impossible.
Can we fast while the bridegroom is with us? (Mark 2:19, Matthew 9:15.) And he is with us now and forever!
If I observe Lent anymore, I do it, I hope, in a way that points others to the eventual obsolescence of the whole idea of sackcloth and ashes. I think you must go through that time, but once you rightly apprehend it, I think you move toward the place of joy where Jesus’ love is all and in all and over all that stuff — and penitence, while not sinful, is simply bad taste.
Lent begins next Wednesday. But I say, for me, on my journey with Jesus, laissez le bon temp roulez!