Deep in the heart of Lent: An update and reflection
Lent started more than two weeks ago as I write this on March 10 of 2023. Ash Wednesday was February 22. Lent will end on Easter, or better Resurrection Day.
Note: I have not posted to this blog for a few weeks for several reasons, largely because my work life has been all-consuming. Today we begin spring break, tomorrow is “the time change” related to the outdated practice of daylight saving’s time (which is not going away due to inaction in the House of Representatives, a discussion for another day), and tomorrow I get to engage with writers at a Conference in Cartersville, Georgia, run by Georgia Highlands College.
For a better version of what I am going to write here, check this out:
(It is probably behind a paywall, unfortunately. I paid for my Christianity Today subscription yesterday and now can read freely (but not without charge!)
With a few days relief from the unrelenting grading of teaching seven classes (yeah), running an academic department, and being in the midst of publishing a novel with Colorful Crow, I return to this blog.
As some know, I have two other blogs. For Lent, I gave up posting and even looking at those two. It didn’t make the flow of ideas stop, but it did give me some time and a release from the compulsion to check them two or three times a day to see if anyone is reading them. I will return after Easter with an onrush of posts, but the hiatus has been helpful.
Lent is not a Baptist “thing.” But I am not that concerned about “Baptist things” any longer. There are many strains and traditions in the 2000 years of the Church of Jesus Christ (which needs no adjectives, time stamps, or extra words in that title, thank you very much). The Baptist tradition, which is not understood or appreciated by most Baptists, is one of them. It’s one I connect to, loosely, but the Wesleyan, Puritan, Anglican, indigenous, and even Catholic and Orthodox ones (did she actually write that?) can enrich our worship and lives in way. My favorite devotional book is the Puritan The Valley of Vision, and the writings of Henri Nouwen (despite his and L’Arche’s failings) have been a blessing and consolation.
So, I don’t have a church home where I can go to have ashes applied to my head, although I was happy to see students at my secular college with the gray sign of the cross on their foreheads on February 22. I would be uncomfortable with it, probably, yet it is a sign of repentance, affiliation, and commitment (as is immersion baptism). After the first time, one settles into a tradition or any action really.
But I do observe this period of forty days (a time period symbolic of desert wanderings, which Lent also symbolizes) before the cross and resurrection remembrance. Don’t get me started on Emperor Constantine, his anti-semitism, and the crazy formula for Easter that no one can keep straight: the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of spring! He did not want it connected with Passover, which clearly in Scripture it is. Sheesh.
During Lent I am studying and meditating on the psalms of Asaph, which are 50 and 73-83. I hope to write a short study on them, but even if I don't, they will still speak to this generation. They ask some big questions: Why does God do what he does? Why is there suffering, injustice and inequity, what is grace, and where is this all headed? Do they answer the questions? Or do they, like the poet Rilke says, "Live the questions."
The psalms of Asaph are downers, in some ways, but not to be dismissed or overlooked because David’s name is not on them. They do not bear David’s characteristics, but possibly some were written during David’s reign. (Asaph may be a person or an order or tradition—that is also a different matter for a different day).
Asaph reminds me that what I struggle with, overall, is priorities, and I do not think I am alone there. I like to listen to The Hidden Brain podcast by Shankar Vedantam. His recent episode on purpose had some wisdom, one of them this nugget: Your goals can get in the way of your purpose. That struck me deeply. I have goals to fill a book: professional, educational, social, physical (health and cleaning this house!). And they tend, heavily, to block my purpose.
Lent is the time to focus on one’s purpose, which, make no mistake, is not your own decision. Sorry, not sorry, but this is where I get all Presbyterianly fundamental on everyone. Man’s purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
If God is not involved deeply in our life purposes, we’re missing it.