I went into Lent like a wild woman. Promptly, I bought not one, but three books to guide me through the Christian 40-day tradition of fasting and prayer. On Ash Wednesday I vowed to write 40 days of poems, crossed myself with home-burned ashes, and even dared to go to a school meeting with the black mark on my forehead.
I prepared myself to learn the art of living with less.
Sharing the Identity of the Cup
Upon entering the office and seeing no one else with the mark on their head, I suddenly felt the risky recognition Lent brings: of being singled out as a Christian. Strangely and simultaneously, I experienced a sense of union with millions of believers around the world who bore the mark of following Christ. We were exposed together, united in the mark of death and resurrection. Lent is not a spiritual journey we take alone.
Somehow faith has become a just me journey, feeding cultural individualistic ferocity. Keep it to yourself. Private, unquestioning, solitary. We pretend we’ve got it all together, but we’re suffering. Lent invites us to fast from ourselves, to enter mystery and mess, and bear one’s another burdens.
Before the meeting, I had stood in front of the long hall mirror and looked at the explicit symbol. I was tempted to wipe away the mark with the back of my hand before I went out into society. But then, I would have missed out on the communal cup.
A Haunted Heart
Growing up Baptist, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Lent, until my best friend in the fifth grade explained the black crosses. She invited me to a haunting Maundy Thursday service at her Methodist church. I was transfixed by the dark curtains, the canned recordings of the nails being pounded into Christ’s wrists and feet, the somber reverence for our Savior dying.
Later I took open communion at her church (a no-no in mine). The pastor tore a piece of bread from a loaf and handed it to me as I knelt at the prayer bench. He wiped the lip of a big chalice with a white cloth and offered me a draught. Juice sweetened my lips. I felt a wall in my heart crumble in a holy understanding. We are to love one another like Christ. This knowledge is not meant to be kept to ourselves.
During His last Passover on earth, Christ said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 (NKJV)
How do we learn to lay our lives down for one another like Christ?
This week my husband has been away. I am doing more chores, more bedtimes, and more kid drama, and it’s emotionally taxing. Yesterday in the midst of a parenting battle, I had to walk outside and take a long breath. I had wanted my new discovery of Holy Week to be this sacred thing: devotions and Easter crafts every night. Less bunnies, more Jesus.
Instead, I have spent the evenings managing major kid-drama or giving lectures about homework and clean rooms. Our sacred family devotions are 20-minutes of pre-bedtime excerpts of 1977 version of Jesus of Nazareth on YouTube. It’s extraordinarily ordinary, but this week has been a laying down of my life.
Less me. More Jesus.Tweet This
Lent teaches us to live with less control.
I didn’t write 40 poems or fast from food very well on Fridays.
This Lent, I fasted from me: from isolation, expectation, and resentment.
Lent lessened me, in a good way.
That first day of Lent, I found a lump in my breast. It turned out to be a benign cyst. A few weeks later, as I drove home from the ultrasound and the radiologist’s verdict of freedom, I had the urge to pull into a local Ethiopian coffee shop. I walked in and exchanged gleaming grins with everyone there because I had been gifted good news! Medium latte in hand, I wanted to shout, “I’ve been given new life. I am free!” I drove home and kissed my kids’ foreheads instead.
Knowing I was dust helped me experience the fullness of resurrection. Lent has been a good teacher.
Lent and Less Thans
Preparing our hearts with God, within community cements our true identity as chosen people, cross-carrying, surrendered servants. When we are less, God is glorified. We are not less than, we are sinners saved from ourselves.
During Lent, we fast from appearances and demands and turn to the preparation of prayer. Transformationally, we are open to the opportunity to bear one another’s burdens. We have compassion for the the weary mother down the street, eyes for those hurt by racism and violence in our community, and a sense that suffering and healing sit together as friends, in differences and in love.
Lent teaches us to identify less as individuals and more as fellow cross carriers.Tweet This
Less Me. More Us.
Less Us. More Jesus.
This is the mark of mystery. This is our Easter Resurrection. This is the Belovedness we share.
Resources for Lent and Easter
Pauses for Lent: 40 Word for 40 Days by Trevor Hudson
40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast. by Alicia Britt Chole (includes a comprehensive history of Lent)
A Way other than Our Own: Devotions for Lent by Walter Brueggemann