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March 27, 2014

Lenten Lights

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This week marks the halfway point in our journey through Lent. How is your journey going? Have you caved in on sweets yet? Surrendered to an urge to abandon your convictions that now seem like they were made so long ago (as in three weeks ago)?

I certainly have. I have been sorely tempted more than once to stuff one of my mom’s homemade cupcakes in my mouth in one fell swoop without feeling any remorse whatsoever about the decision.

What was the big deal about Lent anyway? And why in the world did I promise to forgo all of these delicious sweets?!

If you are in need of some Lenten Light to refresh and remind you of why you decided to take this journey in the first place, take heart from these words from one of my favorite authors and sojourner, Leanne Payne (it is a long quote, but well worth the read):

“Our journey in time is for the special ordering of our lives and passions. The church wisely has set aside a special time-within-time, the Lenten Season, for us to stop and look at our lives in view of eternity and to check our spiritual temperatures for any worldly virus our souls may have caught. It is not accidental that this period precedes Easter and prepares us for the Feasts of Christ’s resurrection and ascension that follow:
The grace of abstinence has shone forth,
banishing the darkness of demons.
The power of the Fast disciplines our minds.
Lent brings the cure to our crippling worldliness.

As Fr. Thomas Hopko writes, Lent stands as the great reminder that: ‘We are in exile. We are alienated and estranged from our true country.’

To forget God is the cause of all sins. To be unmindful of Zion is the source of all sorrows. To settle down in this fallen world, which is not God’s good creation but rather the Babylon which the wicked have made, is death to the soul.

Christians await the ‘holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,’ which is the true homeland of all human beings (Revelation 21:2)….They already live in it to the measure that they have discovered their authentic humanity made in God’s image and likeness in Christ.’

There is a dangerous forgetfulness on our part that this world is not our true and final home. This has been greatly exacerbated by the fact that our educational systems, drawing their theories from materialist philosophy, have claimed heaven to be off-limits and have taught us to look within ourselves and to this earth for the ultimate good. As C.S. Lewis points out, this progressive subjectivization has resulted in an ‘evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years….Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.’

I think this explains why we have such difficulty in understanding and celebrating Lent in beneficial ways. We are no longer sure deep down that we are exiles, that this is not the promised home. Therefore, we’ve accommodated ourselves to Babylon and then are overwhelmed at the sickness, fear, hatred, and violence we see here. It is a strange fact that we Christians continue to be unduly shocked and even overcome by the sight and the extent of the evil we discover in the world – as if we didn’t know it to be a fallen one.

Lent is to remind us that it is all too easy to settle in here, to warn us that perhaps a ‘crippling worldliness’ has indeed overtaken us.

‘See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving, heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.’ Hebrews 3:12-13

This is what the Lenten Scripture readings and teachings are meant to correct in us. They would teach us how we can live in the midst of Babylon and not be destroyed by it, even as Christ prayed: ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.’ John 17:15-16

The journey through life then, if made successfully, requires that we order our inner and outer lives. We do this through prayer, and keeping an effective listening prayer journal; those are the best means I can recommend. For those who have difficulty ordering all that an effective vocation has brought into their orbit, or for those who have grown dangerously passive, slothful spiritually and mentally, you may want to read – on your knees – Richard J. Foster’s books Celebration of Discipline and Freedom of Simplicty, or Godon MacDonald’s book Ordering Your Private World. It is essential that we order our lives and our ‘loves’ this side of glory – in time.

We are often said to be creatures of time, and that we are. But time too is a creature. It is created. It will not always be. This is, for me at least, an overwhelming concept to grapple with and keep before my eyes; it is one I cannot really ‘think’ of or fully grasp. But the truth of the matter is, God is outside of time, and not subject to it. Somedy we too will no longer be subject to time. Meanwhile in our pilgrimage, it is important to see time as gift, as treasure not to be squandered.”
Leanne Payne, “Restoring the Christian Hope of Heaven and Grace,” Restoring the Christian Soul

Leanne’s quote is a lot to process; but I walk away with two main things:

#1. Lent helps to “bring the cure to our crippling worldliness.” It is the antidote to the worldly virus that has infected our souls and helps us to remember this world is not our home. It also ushers in reminders of the Hope of Heaven, our true home.

#2. Lent helps us to order our gift of time rightly. We forget that time is a gift from God, a created thing that will not last forever. Part of our job as Christians is to order our time, to subject it to the rule and reign of Christ and use it to usher in the rule of His Kingdom, first in our own private lives and then in the differing spheres where He has placed us.

So this week and in the remaining weeks to come, if you are tempted to cram that cupcake down your throat…stop. Remember that in remembering Lent, you are doing a good thing. You are forcing your heart and mind to forgo the “sweetness” of the world for the sanctity of Heaven. And you are rightly ordering your time. You are pausing for a season each year to force your heart to yield to the Lordship of Christ, to remember the cross, remember His suffering, and remember your journey towards your true Home.

So don’t give up or give in halfway through. Keep on fasting. Keep on forgoing. For within the fast lies the freedom to turn our hearts towards a Great God and greater things.