After a fantastic Carnavale celebration last Sunday, Lent is finally here. Special thanks go to the deacons for the doughnut decorating extravaganza, to the choir and musicians for some fun music, and to all who pitched in with balloons and beads.
I didn’t know much about the religious side of this kind of celebration growing up, in part because I didn’t know about Lent. Presbyterians where I grew up in Atlanta thought Lent belonged to our Catholic friends. The only signs of Lent in my church were kids waving palms the Sunday before Easter.
I’ve grown to love Lent, though, and here’s why:
1) No one can figure out how to commercialize Lent.
I remember my first time seeing an inflatable nativity scene in someone’s yard one Advent, and thinking, “well, they’ve really got Christmas now.” No one will ever spend money on a giant ashen forehead for their front yard – unless it’s Halloween, of course.
2) Giving up something is good for the soul.
The current craze for Marie Kondo and minimalism as a lifestyle is just the latest version of the ancient spiritual truth. Our stuff takes up space in our hearts as well as our homes; giving it up can free us to love others better.
3) Remembering our mortality connects us with the rest of humanity.
Without being morbid – or maybe precisely as we are morbid – we come to understand our common human ending as another sign of our shared humanity. The fact that we all die levels our existential playing field, and hopefully adds to our compassion.
4) Jesus’s human struggles can help us find strength in the midst of our own.
When we remember that Jesus was betrayed, that leaders plotted against him, that he knew the depths of suffering himself, we can trust that God knows betrayal, humiliation, and suffering intimately, and longs to enter into the times when we suffer ourselves.
5) As Jesus engages the dark places in himself and in the world, we can follow.
Carl Jung called the part of our selves we try to avoid our shadow. He believed that our shadow, if ignored, could cause pain and suffering to us and to others, but that our shadow could also be the source of profound transformation. The shadow knows the truth about us, and therefore can be the source of the truth of God’s grace, too.
This year, we’ll engage the shadow side of Lent at Western. It connects all the other aspects of Lent and then some more. As you consider your own experience, regardless of whether or not you are giving something up, join us this Sunday for “Seeing Our Shadow.” May you know the freedom that comes when you don’t have to buy a single thing to get ready, and may you discover the power of God’s transformation in you.
Grace and peace,