Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of the season of Lent in the Christian calendar is this week. What is the purpose of Lent anyway and how might we be invited to put away the cat of nine tails in exchange for the healing balm of love.
Mea Culpa Mea Culpa
Ash Wednesday is this week and for the first time in my life, I am not looking forward to Ash Wednesday or even to Lent in the anxious anticipation that for me used to color this season. I take this to mean that my addiction to self-loathing has finally come to an end! Seriously…..I used to BASK in the glow of self-judgment, the wagging finger of blame, guilt and shame and the penitential practices that said to me, “See how good of a Catholic I am….I’m fasting, I’m abstaining, I’m donating to the poor, I’m praying, I’m doing the Stations of the Cross, I’m attending Eucharistic Adoration, I’m going to confession and receiving absolution, I’m earning God’s approval and insuring my own ticket to paradise.” Lent was the PERFECT church season for a Perfectionist who was not yet on the road to recovery (from perfectionism, that is). Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely see the value in many of the Lenten practices …..even the sacrament of Reconciliation…but if all Lent is doing for us is telling us how depraved we are and how much we need to earn back God’s love and approval because of our horrible sinful natures and if all Lent is doing is making us feel like crap….or allowing us to wallow in our own addiction to self-loathing, then perhaps we need to rethink our relationship to this annual Christian observance.
Proposing a New Theology of Lent….or Lent for recovering Perfectionists and Martyrs
So, if you are one of those who wallows in self-loathing, or likes to bask in the glow of self-imposed martyrdom….or if you are simply a Christian who wants a new lens through which to view Lent…..here is my proposal. Let’s start with the foundations of Lent. Lent, we have been told, is modeled after Jesus’ 40 days in the desert where he was tempted by “Satan” in preparation for his entrance into his ministerial life. Let’s back up the story a bit……the part that is often neglected is that Jesus’ foray into the desert came IMMEDIATELY after his baptism in the Jordan by John. It was at the moment of his baptism, that Jesus came to understand that he was God’s beloved son. His time in the desert, provided the opportunity he needed to reflect on what that meant for him and how he was called to live that out. At the same time, Jesus had to confront all the “inner obstacles” (the meaning of the Hebrew word “satan”), that might stand in the way of him freely and openly living out that call. As such, Jesus had to come face to face with all of the ego-driven temptations (pride, sloth, greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony) that might stand in the way of him being the person he was called to be. He took that time in the desert to face those inner obstacles and to allow God to release him from those temptations….thereby being healed and freed of his spiritual fears so that he could be the healer, prophet, teacher, savior he was called to be. And…..he did it, successfully…..thanks to God’s help.
Lent as a Time for Healing – Exploring the What ifs
So, what would happen if we applied Jesus’ 40 days in the desert to our own spiritual journeys? What if we recognize, that like Jesus, our baptism is the moment when we are reminded that we are God’s beloved son or daughter and that with us God is very pleased? What if we stuck our necks out there and actually BELIEVED in God’s unconditional, limitless, infinite love for us and that there is in fact nothing we can do…and nothing that we have ever done that could separate us from the Love of God (Paul says something to this effect). What if, like Jesus, we struggle with the inner obstacles to remembering God’s love and that we struggle with the inner obstacles to being the person God has called us to be – peaceful, content, joyful, fulfilled, creative, loving, compassionate, working for justice, merciful? What if instead of using Lent as a time for self-flagellation and self-punishment, we used it as a time to ASK GOD FOR HELP……inviting God to heal all those places within us where we have forgotten God’s love….forgotten our beloved nature and forgotten the work God has called us to do in the world. What if?
A Terrific Lenten Resource
Now, a moment for a little shameless self-promotion. If you are looking for a resource to help you move through Lent with a new set of eyes, my book, Authentic Freedom – Claiming a Life of Contentment and Joy is a fabulous resource. The foundation of the book illuminates the false perception of separation from God that causes the spiritual fears that lead to our compulsive (sinful) behaviors. The book then provides a systematic process through which you are invited to name your own spiritual fears and through sound spiritual practice, give those fears over to God for healing and release. Consider it your own 40 days in the desert. And if you buy it before midnight tonight, I’ll throw in your own set of Cat of Nine Tails for free. 😉
What has been your relationship with the annual observance of Lent?
How are you being called to embrace a new perspective on Lent?
What are some of the inner spiritual fears that you might want to offer up for healing?
Authentic Freedom Ministries