Lent is a big time of the year for me. Liturgically, I don’t like it as much as Advent. I prefer the hopefulness and longing of Advent to the repentance and asceticism of Lent. I prefer the communal aspect of Advent, the shared longing for Christmas. Lent is always more individual, more about the personal soul work that each person, before God, has to do. But Lent, personally, carries far more weight than does Advent. It was in Lent of 2013 that I first began my journey back to orthodoxy, that I felt again, after the desert, the movement of my soul toward God. Lent of 2013 culminated in the Good Friday service that Drew, Eric, and I created–the service in which I had the third conversion of my life (the first was my baptism at 9; the second was my acknowledgment of spiritual poverty at 16).
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Lent, with its theme of repentance, can have the tendency to devolve into me hitting myself over the head about how screwed up I am. But, at its best, this season of repentance and drawing close to God gives the believer six weeks to walk with Jesus as he heads toward Jerusalem and death. Lent is the preparatory time one gets after the diagnosis of a terminal illness to set ones affairs in order. In Lent, we repent of our sins. In the traditional Ash Wednesday liturgy in the West, we confess our various sins to God and our neighbor. In this litany, sin is revealed in all its manifold ways
Sin is intemperance. Or negligence.
Sin is folly and sin was failure.
Sin is mean spirited and malicious.
Sin is uncharitable and hypocritical.
Sin is a disruption of web of relationships. It was the breaking of shalom.
And repentance is a plea to God for restoration. A request for him to heal the rip.
Repentance is trusting that the darkness, negligence, ignorance, folly, failure, intemperance, malice, judgement, and hypocrisy will be overwhelmed by love.
The opposite of sin is not obedience to commands. The opposite of sin is love.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
And it is willingly participating in that process of restoration.
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One thing Lent asks people to do is to give up something important, and perhaps excessive, to embrace ascetic discipline just a little bit. This self-denial drives people toward self-reflection and self-criticism; it’s supposed to move people closer to love of God and love of neighbor. The things that people give up for Lent are generally not intrinsically bad (food, sugar, caffeine, TV), but they can come to wield a disproportionate influence over our lives. Something I have long believed is that love displaces sin; virtue displaces vice. The solution is rarely, if ever, quit doing something bad without simultaneously replacing it with something good. Rather, I have found that the purpose of giving something up is to restore balance, to locate the excessive habit in its proper location amid various other activities.
Last year I gave up drinking anything but water and milk. This was because, in particular, I had (and have) a problem with caffeine. This year, I plan to go after something more insidious. A process that I began last April when I restricted my smartphone use (I don’t have access to social media, news, or browser apps) and continued this November after the election when I restricted my use of Facebook to once a week (I have since deleted Facebook; I’ve found that I do not use it for anything productive) has been to better make sense of how I fill the silence in my life. As is no surprise to anyone, we are inundated with constant stimulation. We are never bored because we can always be instantly entertained. I am no different. I typically fill silence not taken up by conversation, reading, or work that requires concentration with listening to podcasts and Netflix. I subscribe to something like 17 podcast feeds and I always have a show going on Netflix (currently the Netflix original series about the Medici). Moreover, when neither of those are available, I turn to music or the radio.
Yesterday, when I drove to work, I opted to not listen to anything. I was not surprised with the difficulty of not listening to a podcast or the radio or, at the very least, music. And, yet, my hatred of silence, my hatred of being alone with myself, was nearly overpowering. I crave stimulation. I crave knowledge of what is happening RIGHT NOW. And so, to help address this problem in my life, I am giving up media of every kind (TV, radio, podcasts, Netflix, music, etc). I am going to simply be silent and alone for large parts of my day. I hope to pray more. I hope to make more phone calls to people I love. I hope to read more. I hope to seek out real human conversations more.
For such is my holy intention, the sacrifice I wish to offer to God.
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Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.
Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.
By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection. (found here)