“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This solemn pronouncement during the imposition of ashes signals the beginning of Lent. Lent is usually a somber time when our hang-dog fasting look gives away the fact that we are not really very good at fasting in secret.
But is it so somber? Think for just a minute. The call to metanoia, repentance, transformation is also a reminder, as our Buddhist friends say, of our face before we were born. We ARE dust—the stardust flaring forth from the Creator in whose very image and likeness we are created. We have a spark of the Divine within us.
Lent, therefore, presents us with a paradox—our mortality and our divine destiny. We live during Lent in the liminal space between death and resurrected life in the Cosmic Risen Christ. One foot stands on death and the other stands on life, which is the Paschal mystery.
In the January Experience conference, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann reflected on Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9. God says, “I love you.” Daniel, representing all the people, responds, “We have sinned.” God responds, “I forgive you.” Like Daniel, Joel called the people to prayer, fasting and repentance. In both Daniel and Joel, the mind of God was changed by the efficacy of prayer, “Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.”
Lent is a time to rediscover our face before we were born. It is the time to truly believe that God will intervene in our lives to make gift us with boundless shalom—health, well-being, wholeness. Prayer in the secret room of our hearts, almsgiving to alleviate human misery, and fasting to discipline what Francis called “Brother Ass” (and to promote health and well-being—shalom) all serve to lead us into the depths of our true self. Lenten practice helps us to fan the flames of the divine spark deep within us so that we might come to new life—life in Christ Jesus. Now is indeed the acceptable time to become what we are.
Lent is an invitation to enter more fully into the second half of life. The path of ascent in the first half of life has created the container which is ego-driven. Awakening to the challenges of the second half of life leads us on the path of descent—descent into our true self where the Divine dwells deep within us. As our Lenten practices lead us deeper and deeper into the dark depths of our true self, we answer the call to let go. We answer the call, as did Mary, to surrender to the Divine. We become one with the Jesus on the cross so that we might become the Christ of the resurrection.
Lent is about living in the Light—“I am the Light of the world.” The Creator’s first act on the first day of creation was to create light. Light is the ultimate metaphor for the Divine. Hildegard of Bingen and Thomas Merton both recognized the Light in the second half of their lives. Hildegard’s musical composition, Symphonia, and Merton’s poem, Hagia Sophia, both contain innumerable references to the Light. Hildegard scholar Barbara Newman entitled one book, Voice of the Living Light. Hildegard reports that she first saw “The Shade of the Living Light” when she was three. She began to write about her visions when she was 42 (second half path of descent). Merton shows a comprehensive understanding of the path of descent in his last years. One of the many references to Wisdom in his masterful poem, Hagia Sophia, is, “We do not hear mercy, or yielding love, or non-resistance, or non-reprisal. In her there are no reasons and no answers. Yet she [Wisdom] is the candor of God’s light, the expression of His simplicity.”
We are emerging from the darkest part of the year. The glimmer of Easter hope is lighting our way to renewed life in the Risen Cosmic Christ who is the Light of the world and the expression of God’s simplicity—mercy, love, compassion.