Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Making A Good Lent

Making a good Lent may be easier this year. In recent times doing Lent still seemed important, but oddly out of place to Christian believers living in a culture riding high and wide. But now, with the dying economy and the blistering loss of jobs and prosperity, the times seem especially open to at least a little introspection, if not outright repentance.

Said differently, it takes more than a comfortable faith to ratchet down to the deep and inward look required by the season of Lent. It takes a gnawing, an uneasy feeling, a starkness which offers us a sort of premonition that things are out of balance. In good times we tend to take our ease and perhaps lean too heavily on the presumption of blessing, but in bad times we cannot afford to take our ease, too much is at stake.

This whimsical, seasonal sort of faith seems to be a troubling thing because it speaks of how the power of external and cultural influences infiltrates our faith-walk. It speaks, I think, of how easily we are seduced by the sirens of consumption, a seduction which more often than not deforms our faith. But the Christ, I fear, would have it be otherwise with us, don’t you think? This is, perhaps, what St. Augustine meant when he heard the voice of Jesus speaking to him this inward warning: "You will not convert me like common food into your substance," says the LORD, "but will be changed into me."

This is a good picture of Lent -- allowing the LORD to change us, but how are we to be changed? How are we to be consumed by the LORD and not by our own cultural captivity? The answer comes to us through the unique offerings that are the Christian faith as they open to us the call to repent. That is, the new life and the new way to live opened to us in the Christ are renewable, always. This is how we came to faith -- by making a turn, and this is how we continue.

What the bad times offer us, uniquely, is the ability to see just how much we are relying upon the good times and allowing cultural props to become the purchases of power which overshadow our faith. Said another way, bad times offer a built-in opportunity for self-examination and the innate calling to walk in a different direction.

Lenten themes are dark and brooding, as well they should be. How else are we to understand the darkness inside us, a darkness that constantly pulls us from the ways of the Christ toward the ways of the cultural elite?