Cursed as I am with an explosive personality, I have more than a few “trigger phrases” that are guaranteed to make me want to blow my top. Perhaps the most insipid is “everything happens for a reason” or its religious sibling “[fill in the blank bad thing] must be God’s will”. I hope that anyone who has taken a look at the world can see that so many horrid things are not God’s will, and are, in fact, unreasonable.
Today many Christians began Lent marked with the sign of the cross on their foreheads. The significance of the ritual, in liturgical and historical contexts, and in the religious identity of the individual, goes far beyond the short explanations that match our post-modern attention span. We pull out bits and pieces of the meanings of our symbols, which may be the best we can do.
One element I heard pulled out today is a simple one: we mark the start of Lent, and Lent prepares us to celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Simple, I thought.
The Son of God became human, lived among the poor, submitted to a violent death, and then rose to life again. On second thought, maybe not so simple.
If we believe the story – or even if we only believe the theme of the story, that death doesn’t have the final word – that’s a game changer. If our ultimate end is life, not death, that affects who we are and what we do.
“The glory of God is the human being fully alive” – St Irenaeus. That’s the goal, to be alive. Faithful people for millenia have recognized prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – the pillars of Lent – as ways to become more alive. For whatever reason humans seem more inclined to choose behaviors that don’t lead to life. We are deceived by empty promises.
My susceptibility to those empty promises is one of the many reasons I change my lifestyle during Lent. The changes help me clear through the nonsense and see that so many of the things that I think make me who I am are all clutter. The practices I shirk are often the ones that give me life.Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still Even among these rocks, Our peace in His will
I don’t believe in a puppeteer deity, making life unfold according to an inscrutable plan. Just because something has happened doesn’t mean it is God’s will. Rather, perhaps God has set a goal for us – life – and that goal reveals the divine will. Lent gives us time to try out some new ways of hitting the mark and to abandon the little falsehoods to which we cling.
Poetry above from T. S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday. Soundtrack inspired by the same poem.