People often think of Christmas as an emotionally tough time of year to get through, but in reality all Christian holi/holy days are difficult in the years after the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or any other major transition.
Add to all our personal challenges the ghosts of global insecurity, political mayhem and just about the earliest Easter possible (which means that some lilies will be met with the stomping of snow boots at the narthex door), and this may be a difficult Lent for many. How are we to clean out our spiritual closets when even opening the door may be more painful than usual?
If you’re feeling the weight, here are three thoughts on how you might survive Lent in 2016.
Thought One: Go poetically and prophetically
Prophets are the conscience of the people. Journalist H.L. Mencken once wrote, “Conscience: the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking.”
And this year that “someone” will be you. Certainly God too. But it is usually me who neglects to look at myself. The prophetic readings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Martin Luther King Jr. and even modern prophets speaking truth in the news should bend the ear.
And poetry bends eyes and hearts. Poetry infects the mind and the heart at the same time. If this is new to you, perhaps start with a modern poet like Christian Wiman (“Every Riven Thing” and “My Bright Abyss”). Join that voice to Maria Rainer Rilke, Rumi, Jan Richardson or John O’Donohue to keep you open to life as you dig into your spirit. Indeed, it will be the spade you use for the digging.
The prophets will call you to dig; poetry may be the tool.
Thought Two: Go with your body
This season is not just for the soul, beloved. “In these bodies we will live, and in these bodies we will die,” the band Mumford & Sons reminds us (“Awake My Soul”). Our bodies take on special importance in these days when we’re encouraged to participate in the ancient practices of fasting, kneeling and physically handing over our abundance to those without.
Focus on just one of these practices to embody Lent in these strange days where even watching the news can cause physical fatigue.
Thought Three: Go for broke
We talk about denial in Lent — of sin, of self and perhaps even of sweets or bacon. But Lent is a fool’s paradise if we’re just taking a vacation from these things. A vacation may give me a break from my work, but it doesn’t give me a break from myself.
Instead, have God break you open a bit in Lent.
And if you feel the world has already broken you open, then Lent is the time to allow God to do it differently. We callous ourselves after loss and while away in fear — it’s natural. Lent can be a season for wearing away at that shell so we can emerge like new in resurrection life.
Lenten practices are a divine tool for transformation, not vacation. Only after breaking can resurrection make us into something totally new.
And that’s what we all need most this year: resurrection. Lent can be the primer that prepares our lives for that process, the 40 days of wandering that shows us the light at the end of the empty tomb. Don’t back away from the process; enter it all the more fully. Enter into it and then find yourself exiting a newly empty tomb on Easter morning along with the Christ who has brought you this far along the way.