Note from CM: As I prepare for the days of Lent, I found this meditation from 2015 helpful.
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Lent is not about getting better.
Lent is about preparing to die.
The word “lent” means “spring.”
But Lent is not the spring. Lent leads to spring, as death leads to new life.
Lent is the muddy, mucky fecund field awaiting the deposition of the seeds.
Lent’s destination is a cross and Holy Saturday.
Darkness, a forsaken hill, a sealed tomb.
The death of God, hope’s demise.
From strength to weakness, from weakness to humiliation, from humiliation to death, from death to burial.
The lenten season is traditionally the time when catechumens are prepared for baptism.
Forty days of getting ready to drown.
Lent is the death bed vigil.
As we say in hospice, it involves coming to terms with our terminality.
I have sat with patients and their families during those vigils, some of them interminably long.
It is the hardest thing to answer when someone says, why must they linger so?
Why indeed, for forty days, must we watch ourselves dying ’til we’re dead?
I have seen and participated in approaches to Lent that differ from this.
Dubbed “adventures,” “training,” “journeys,” “discipline” or “formation,” the focus was on getting better, stronger, more mature, more capable. Casting off death so as to become more alive. Stripping off the sin that so easily besets us and running a good race to the finish.
I don’t know.
Forty years in the wilderness didn’t make Israel stronger. It was just long enough for the old generation to drop so that God could make way for a new one.
And I’ve changed how I visualize Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness too. Somehow I used to have this idea of Jesus standing strong at the end of forty days, triumphantly rebuking the devil so that he had to flee the Savior’s power. Frankly, that’s probably hogwash. After forty days of fasting, it was more likely a gaunt, weakened and sickly Savior who could barely whisper his replies. Mark tells us that the wild beasts were circling and that “the angels ministered to him.”Now I picture a haggard, dusty body laying face down in the sand, the hyenas and buzzards eagerly watching for that final breath. It took supernatural beings to come and lift his chin and drip water through his parched and chapped lips along with a tiny bite of food. Jesus in extremis, guarded from jackals, nursed back to health one sip, one crumb at a time.
That’s what forty days of dying looks like.
I don’t want to die. I doubt you do either.
Which is why Lent is hard for us after all.
We can talk all we want about what’s coming on the other side, but it’s the death bed we’re all trying to avoid.
We want the fruit without the mud and the muck.
Death we can live with. It’s the dying part that’s hard.
But that is Lent.
It’s not about getting better.
It’s about dying until we’re dead.