The days keep rolling and here we are about to begin another Lenten season. On Wednesday, if I have the energy, I’ll join with others making the pilgrimage to the front of the sanctuary where someone will look me in the eye and say something like, “Remember that you are dust,” as they trace a cross of ash on my forehead, marking me with a sign both of my own dusty humanness and of the love of God that meets me in it.
I love this season with its reminder that my dusty humanness is not something to fear because God himself entered it and now shares it with me. I love it—and I also have to be careful to let it be what it's meant to be so I don't carry it too heavily.
Last week I attended a pre-Lent retreat, a few hours to be still with God on a Saturday morning and listen to what God might have to say to each of us. Before we went off with our own Bibles and journals to listen alone to God, Carolyn Hindmarsh led us through a few thoughts about Lent. The heart of what she said can be summed up in this: “Lent is about love.” It's not about heavy or forced discipline, but about what can help me better open to God's love and offer him mine.
She shared words from her husband, Bruce Hindmarsh:
“Imagine that you and the person you love most in the world were separated by a wall that you could not get around. There is a window in the wall and this is the only place where you can see the face you love most of all. The problem is that the window is covered in dirt and grime. How quickly and energetically would you clean that window? Would it be an act of dreary moralism to clean it? Or would every exertion be lightened by the increasingly clear vision of your beloved?”
By the end of the retreat, I’d written down a tentative plan for Lent, one or two practices that I thought might help me see Jesus a little more clearly and follow him a little more nearly. But as I’ve continued to sit with the possibility since the retreat, I’ve noticed that they feel heavy. And two other things that Carolyn said have kept coming back to me.
First, “Sometimes life itself is Lent enough.” (The year that their daughter was born, Bruce said, “I’m giving up sleep for Lent.”)
Second, practices need to fit who I am and what keeps me from God. Carolyn spoke of how fasting may be an appropriate Lenten practice for some of us, while for others, such as those who struggle with anorexia, a more appropriate Lenten practice might be to fast from fasting. Where do I cling to control in my life? What practice might help me open that place to God, and settle a little more deeply into God’s love?
I’m still pondering, praying, and listening to what God’s invitation is for me this Lent. But I suspect it will be gentler and less structured than I’d planned—perhaps just a few extra minutes to rest in God’s love each day.