However, Lent is not all about penitence or misdeeds or guilt. It is a time of introspection, true, but its ultimate purpose lies beyond penitence. In essence Lent serves as our annual invitation to come closer to God. It provides a time to look at our lives and ourselves, not so we may criticize ourselves more harshly but so we can identify the obstructions that keep us from God. What keeps us from feeling the presence of the divine in our every day? How do we hide from God, and why? Lent gives us a chance to look at such obstructions and to move them gently away so that we can come closer to the Love that gives us life, the Love whose triumph we will celebrate on Easter morning.
Thus Lent offers a gift of time and a promise of closeness. It gives us time to see our current state of affairs in complete honesty. Furthermore, it gives us time to compare this present snapshot with an image of where we would like to be, a place we feel God wants us to find. Self-scrutiny is part of Lent’s process, but we do not observe Lent for the sake of self-scrutiny alone. To sit too long with the guilt and shame of our misdeeds would, in fact, go against the gospel message. Christ’s message is one of new life and forgiveness, so Lenten self-scrutiny must serve this purpose.
To arrive at newness of life, we first name the parts of our lives that are shrouded in darkness, the parts of ourselves where life does not flourish. We walk through some muck so that we can leave it behind us and find Easter joy beyond. Following close upon Lent’s penitence is hope-hope that the barriers between us and God will not remain, that with God’s help we will clear them away and begin to experience greater joy and newness of life.
If we picture all the obstructions between us and God as a wilderness, Lent presents us with time to clear and cultivate a part of that wilderness, to create an open space in it. In this newly opened space, we may live more freely and commune more closely with the divine. We can transform this wilderness and make it our home, our garden, a place that invites God in and asks God to stay. Our wilderness needs to be ordered differently so we can move freely in it, so we can, as God does in Isaiah, “make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isa. 43:19)
Whatever shape this season takes for you, may Lent open you to greater freedom, life, and love. May your work clear space for you to enjoy God and rest in God’s presence, and may you find the living Christ resurrected in you on Easter morning.
- Excerpt from the Introduction to: A Clearing Season – Reflections for Lent – by Sarah Parsons