By Alison Long
If you would have asked 12 year old me what Lent was about, I would have said it was about giving something up. I would have described it as a season of going without, in order to prove something (though I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what exactly). I would have told you it was about rules and what you couldn’t do.
If you would have asked 25 year old me (now, a much more sophisticated seminary student) what Lent was about, I would have said it’s about drawing closer to God. My elevated understanding would suggest actually adding a practice, rather than giving one up, in an attempt to deepen one’s relationship with God and spirituality. I probably would have given you a list of things you could adopt. I would have told you it was about being more and what you ought to do to get there.
If you ask me now – a lonely, discouraged, pandemic-weary parent what Lent is about, I would tell you it’s about freedom. It’s a season-long opportunity to sink into the darkness and the despair and the sludge of life and to simply BE in it. To learn from it. To get comfortable enough being uncomfortable that you realize God dwells there, too. It’s a reminder that things are visible in the dark that we can’t see in the light, and they might even be beautiful. I would tell you it’s about discomfort that breaks us open in new ways, making us acutely receptive and ready to experience the holy.
I crave Lent – every year. I don’t know if it’s the proximity to spring and the weariness that always sets in partway through winter or that as I get older, life gets harder in ways that feel impossible to understand. This year, Lent feels like a root in the midst of three years of COVID, accelerated climate change, bitter partisan politics, and war in Ukraine. Lent is the season for all of this. For acceptance. For recognition that life is hard and there are times, sometimes that last much longer than 40 days, when it feels like the hard will never lift. If you ask me now, I would tell you that Lent is a season of permission to feel it all: the weight and the fear and the panic and loneliness and the despair. And I would tell you it’s a season that ends. And there is beauty in both of those truths.
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