Lent, an ecclesial tradition of at least 1600 years or so, has, it seems, somehow become a thing. Non-denominational megachurches are advertising Lenten reflections. Baptists are talking about a “spirituality of subtraction.” In a particularly moving example, even some Muslims are joining in.
As for me, a convinced Catholic, a theologian by profession, someone who especially likes to think about liturgy and liturgical seasons: I struggle with the whole thing. This essay from Prof. Rachel Lu captures my own feelings well:
I’m a wife, mother, parishioner, community member, philosopher and professional writer.And a bona fide Catholic, with a real sacramental life. In countless ways, my life has grown immeasurably richer. But it is also dramatically more constrained. Everything I do or don’t do affects other people. Free time? What’s that? I’m only familiar with “chip away at the never-ending to-do list” time, and that clock keeps running until my body and brain refuse to function anymore. Then I sleep, and it all starts over again.
To be clear, I really don’t mind having a hectic life. As I see it, this middle-adulthood phase is meant to be like that: crammed with meaningful activity. It’s appropriate. It’s a blessing. But it does make Lent somewhat challenging, because I just don’t have much latitude for personal adjustments. It’s hard to do corporal works of mercy with multiple small children in tow. Social media is pleasant but not really a luxury; I use it all the time for my work. And while I can pass on the occasional cookie or sundae, I can’t return to the serious fasting of my younger days…
It may seem extreme to ask, as Lu does, “How do you observe Lent when your whole life sort of feels like a perpetual Lent?” But that is often how I, too, feel. Already completely poured out.
So, this year, I have turned to look directly at the Biblical image most often evoked in connection with Lent, the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness. I have looked for something new, and here is what I have seen. The wilderness is a harsh place. It surely does involve “giving some things up.” A more fundamental dynamic, however, is at play. The forty days in the wilderness is above all a place of preparation, a place to hear and follow a vocation. For someone like me—busy, distracted, and poured out—it feels like that listening is what is most needed, if I am to learn again how to be a follower of Christ.
So, this Lent, I have “given up” only one thing, which is some of the time I spend on social media. But mostly, I’ve tried to turn that time and that mental energy to spiritual hearing and to contemplation and to the particular question of my own vocation. What does God have to say to me, and where is God calling me now? Dear busy-ones-like-me, the answer has been resounding. It is a call simply to rest and to be beloved.
This has been reinforced in many ways, but especially in relationship to work. All of a sudden, I am encountering the notion of “working from rest” at every turn. Of course, much of my work is teaching, and, in fact, this Lent, I have found myself unexpectedly adding homeschooling one of my children to my list of teaching to-do. At the same time, though, I have also encountered the beautiful concept of “teaching from rest.”
I don’t know what all this looks like yet. But I offer it for what it’s worth. If your Lent has felt impossible, has felt mostly like One More Thing, it would be good today to remember that it’s not over yet. There are at least two weeks, including two weekends, left. Maybe what is needed most is just a chance, even a small chance, to listen.