We have begun the season of Lent: the forty days before Easter. I think lots of people think Lent means giving up chocolates, or not eating meat on Fridays. Lots more have never even heard of Lent. The word has it's root in "lencten," as in lengthening days, or spring. Just as the days are longer now, but it's not any warmer yet here, a lot of our growth during this season is real, but not always yet visible.
Our priest said it's a time to strip away all the unnecessary things we can. I think this is what many spiritual practices, like fasting, which means doing without certain foods, or eating less frequently, are getting at--taking away our excess so we can focus on deep things less distractedly.
I've come across a new picture I'd like to share. A sweet friend of ours wrote recently on her family's blog,
"I come home from work to Ken and Miri peering out the window in our house waiting for me - I can't tell you how this makes me feel as I literally run to the door of my home.[...home...] It is a place of complete freedom, a place of incredible love and support, and for me it is a place stripped of pretense and/or the temptation to be what one is not.
So I walk in the door and am greeted with the warmest, most enthusiastic greetings, kisses from Ken and Miri as Miri helps me strip off my coat, in many ways reminding me that I am home and it's time to strip away all the facades and worries of the day. I am home. And I realize that I could be anywhere with these two and I would still be home, always at home."
The past few days, I keep returning to this image, of returning home to loving family, taking off one's coat, and with it all masks and cares. I think fasting--doing without--is a way of taking off the things that are not really us, the things which are not worthy of our true selves.
It is right to be sorry for the wrong that I do; the ways I am unkind to others, take too much for myself. But now that I am God's own child, now that he has called me his own, all that stuff, the unkindness, the taking too much, is not me anymore. So I want to take off that coat, wet, cold, and salty from the day, the winter, the roads, strip it off, until I am just the real me. As she so beautifully illustrates, stripping off the false self removes bulk so that we can be intimate.
If we decide to do a kind of Lenten penance (the spiritual practices of doing without certain bad or unnecessary things, and doing certain good things, in sorry-ness for our badness) it is not because we're guilt-ridden. It's not because we're so bad, we need to sit in a corner and think about what we've done! No, we observe this season in preparation for Easter because any of the bad habits or wrong ways we may have are not the real us. Our real self, unencumbered, is God-born, loving, and very tenderly loved.