Today is the start of Lent, forty days (not including Sundays) that are set apart and seen as an intentional/prayerful/awaken to God time. I crave Lent, which may sound like an odd statement. Some view Lent as a microcosm of where religion veered off-course. Lent is about sacrifice in a world that constantly preaches, "You deserve it YOUR way, right now." Lent is about quiet in a world that rewards the loudest voices and most re-tweets. Lent is about intentionality in a world that is prefers snap judgments and spontaneous decisions...after all why else put all that stuff near the cash register. Lent is a slow, savory pace in a microwave world. Lent is about as counter-cultural as it gets...because Lent is about Jesus.
Jesus who preached loving enemies and peace. Jesus who lived reaching out to people on the fringe rather than exploiting them. Jesus who faced death on a cross not as something to be avoided but as a reality for walking on this earth. Yet, in order to immerse ourselves in Lent, we need to be willing to take apart, explore, and expose some of the theology that usually is caught up in these season. Lent is about calmly plotting the resurrection of life...not only Jesus' life...but all life and the world God so loves. In order to frame that, the shadow of the cross might need to be re-imagined. For me, the cross is not God sacrificing God's only son. That has never made much sense to me. How in the world could we "earn" God's love back by killing God's son? How could Good Friday be considered a "win" on our part? How limiting is it to think that the only rationale for Jesus' death on a cross is that it was the "only way" God could start loving us again? I just shake my head.
Instead, for me, the cross shines a light on the myth of redemptive violence. For me, the cross is God explicitly saying to us that God knows the suffering of this world intimately. One of the most painful seasons is grief, death of someone we love. God enters into that space, just as God was willing, through Moses, to enter into the suffering of the overworked, scarcity of God's people in Egypt. God is always willing to be among the vulnerable, lost, lonely, left out, and pushed to the fringes.
So, if what we are building toward is not about substitution atonement or even Jesus dying for my sins. If what we are building toward is a proclamation of God's willingness to suffer and self-giving even in the face of death....that changes everything. That makes Lent different...even as some of the practices might seem the same.
Lent calls me to shine a light on my suffering...trusting that truth that pain that is not processed is passed along.
Lent calls me to be vulnerable...prayerful...honest in my relationship with God.
Lent calls me to accept that grace and love are unconditional...even before Good Friday happened.
Yet...practices like fasting...giving up a favorite food...prayer every day...silence...lighting candles...spending time serving others...worship...communion...community...caring...working for justice...and on and on can still be meaningful especially if Lent is re-framed.
I invite you this Lent to re-frame your faith. To take out, touch up the painting of faith we have been handed adding your creative touches to the mystery of God's love...or pick out a new way to look at what it means to be in a life-giving, life-changing relationship with God.
I encourage you today to listen to where you sense God nudging you. It might not be necessarily giving something up...maybe it is something joy-filled you've always wanted to try.
In the end, Lent is a season of being intentional and prayerful. At the cross roads of those two words, what is being awoken within you to connect with God in meaningful ways? Go that way...and I believe there is more than a trace of God's grace to be found.