Ready for the obligatory Ash Wednesday post? Let’s begin.
Last year, I attempted to give up Facebook for Lent. I was doing it for all the wrong reasons, plus I’m a teensy bit addicted, so needless to say, I failed about a week in. I used the occasion to mentally flog myself, as I usually do when I don’t live up to my own standards however skewed they may be, for not being holy enough to refrain from something that actually hurts me more than it helps me most of the time, something that 99% of history has lived without (likely better for it, in my opinion), something that sucks up all my free time anyway. It was a perfectly executed exercise in missing the point. And that’s because Lent is actually about God, not me. It’s not about what I can do for God, as if the Maker of All That Has Been Made could need a thing from human hands. It’s not about looking pious for my friends. It’s not about coming up with the best thing to abstain from.
It’s about God freely refusing to be God without us (in the probably somewhat mangled words of Karl Barth). It’s about getting back in touch with the awe-full-ness of that reality, letting it be *more* real to us than our feats of fidelity (or fears of failing to be thus), earning holiness points or strong-arming ourselves into deeper spirituality. The truth is that we are too wretched, all of us, to do anything without God’s charity and mercy, let alone *earn* such blessings. The good news is that we just weren’t meant to. What were we meant for? To borrow and amend a line from Spielberg’s 2012 film Lincoln, “The whole of creation has been fighting for life since the first of it was alive. No creature asks what life is for. Life is first.” Flowers don’t ask why, they just bloom. Birds don’t question, they just sing. Kittens don’t hesitate, they just wrestle and play.
So, in this vein of becoming what we are, I am giving up fighting myself for Lent. For one, I already have enough dietary restrictions from allergies, sensitivities and some other health issues that I don’t have much left to give up food-wise. For another, I want to do something that will actually help me be mindful not merely solemn, focused not downcast and anticipating healing (aka Easter) not self-punishing. Life is really only rightly lived when we remember that we are not our own. I am very good at trying to usurp God’s role as Creator in my life by a) forgetting that the role of Creator is an ongoing one, b) that it involves love above all else (rather than, say, strict discipline, harsh deprivation or constant dismantling) and c) that I’m actually kind of terrible at being my own creator. It’s probably because I wasn’t meant to; what I was meant to do, what I was made to “do” is be. There are many, many things I could give up in my efforts to keep the good work of my good God ever the focus of my mind, even if a few are a bit simplistic. I suppose, in a way, allowing myself permission to be and be what I already am is a sort of catch-all. But the point is not self-glorification or even self-actualization. It’s not inflation of the ego. It’s not an excuse for licentiousness. It’s the mending and glazing of a parched and cracked pot by placing it in back in the hands of Fire.