Having a Good/Bad Lent
There are many ways of being a pilgrim, only one of which is to go physically to some special – preferably tried and true and holy – destination. That’s my favorite way, since (at least in theory), it gets body, mind, and spirit all moving in the same direction.* In practice, of course, it’s more complicated than that because, in a fallen world, human life has become complicated. Even at the natural level, people we meet every day are often engaged in enormous struggles just to be normal. And at the spiritual level, the pathways get steep and rocky. Fast.
Lent should remind us – we’re often told – that all of us are on a spiritual pilgrimage, whether we know it or not. It’s good to be reminded of that, but it can make it seem that a “good” Lent will be orderly, peaceful, gently leading us to “see God” more clearly. That’s so, sometimes. But is a “good Lent” only one that meets our expectations? Strangely, sometimes a “bad” Lent can be better.
Prayer is hard. If you try to pray better – at regular times and undistracted – and find you can’t do it for forty days, let alone a few minutes, the failure (the bad) can be good, not in itself of course, but because it shows reality: our distance from God and helplessness without Him – a truth we may have simply to endure until we receive the grace to change.
Fasting is (obviously) hard. Doubly so when done not for self-interested reasons like losing weight or “taking charge” of your life, but for the distant goal that the struggles in prayer make plain. None of us can fully “take charge” of our lives, as important as small improvements can be, because human life by nature is beyond complete human control, perhaps never more so than when we think it’s not. Various episodes in the Bible of peoples striving to live without God or, in our times, the horrors produced by various forms of atheist totalitarianism are cautionary tales.
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