I’m beginning to question the whole penitential thing about Lent. Don’t get me wrong, I think a time of self-reflection is essential, and preferably ongoing. It’s the whole ‘remember you are from dust and to dust you shall return’. Having just escaped, thanks to a skilled surgeon and wonderful nursing staff, from the whole ‘to dust you shall return’ bit, at least for a few more years, I really am already quite aware of my mortality, ta very much.
If it was just about mortality, that’d actually be fine, but it’s that hint of required grovelling – I’m a miserable sinner kind of thing. I’m sorry but I simply cannot find this take on life in Jesus of Nazareth. His forty days were about pure-introspection, solitude and overcoming the temptation to wield power (which is what the mythical temptations symbolise – and let’s please admit they are dramatized psychological events going on there). Not once is it about ‘ya gonna burn in hell sinner’ or such like.
Jesus emerges a figure of joy, transformation and, above all, gratitude. As the Buddhist writer Timber Hawkeye puts it, we tend to fall into cup half empty or cup half full but what life is really about is being thankful we have a cup in the first place! Jesus, time and again, reveals that there is one huge cup of being loved, accepted, welcomed, embraced and you don’t have to pay for it. No bowing. No scraping. The kicker is that once you truly accept and it matters to you that radical embrace is there for all without exception, including yourself, and that it’s always freely given, never earned, there begins a process of transformation of all those things that stop us extending that same free, generous and unearned love to others. Grace always comes first.
If Lent asks us to give up anything, I think it’s this: stop the whole “I’m a miserable sinner” thing and embrace being pretty much that tightly-hugged kid the story of the Prodigal Son talks about.
So I, for one, am no longer sure about the whole ashes thing anymore. I think I’d rather have forty days of unremitting gratitude prior to another forty days (or fifty, depending on which liturgical party you adhere to) on unremitting joy. With even more gratitude.
Happy Lent one and all!