The Good Life
Lent is about taking a step back from the myriad of voices telling us how to live the good life and rather, pressing into the One who came and lived a compellingly alternate life. By Rebecca Solomon
On the Christian liturgical calendar, Lent (from Latin, meaning “fortieth”) is the 40 days following on from Ash Wednesday in the lead up to Easter Sunday. The idea is that it’s a time of reflection, of giving up, a time of anticipation of Christ’s victory over darkness and death.
I like Lent as a concept and practice. The thing that appeals to me about it in particular is that it can’t really be commercialised (how do you commercialise something that’s all about ‘giving up’?). In a society that is characterised by excess, a culture living well beyond our planetary limits, giving up doesn’t always fit or sit comfortably but it can be a refreshing contrast.
I’ve done it in years gone by, giving up treats or social media with a vague intent to read and reflect more on the life and death of Jesus. But as I began Lent this year I heeded the call in a more ambitious way. I decided to:
- Cook at home more and give away the money I might save
- Watch a sunrise or sunset daily
- Meditate for 10-15 minutes each day in the morning and
- Follow a few different Lent reflections, specially, following the ‘Lectio Divina’ - a form of meditation rooted in liturgical celebration that dates back to early monastic communities. This involves focused reading of Scripture (lectio), meditation on the Word of God (meditatio), contemplation of the Word and its meaning in one's life (contemplatio) and ends with prayer (oratio).
It didn’t seem like too much. (Ha!) I started out well with trips to the nearest body of water for slow reflection in the morning or evenings, a few healthy meals prepared at home, taking time each day to begin slow with prayer.
But then Sydney decided to rain forever and the sun couldn’t be seen as it rose and set. I got sick and fell in love and life happened as it tends to and my plans for Lent went pear-shaped. Some days I found myself listening to the morning meditation podcast I’d signed up for while simultaneously sending emails, hanging out washing and making toast. Or I put it on the evening while my thoughts went to family difficulties or the next day’s work. Some days I was literally racing the clock in my car or on foot as I anxiously rushed to the water’s edge to get there before sunset or sunrise so that I could ‘slow down and be present’. I was hurriedly adding in a reflection before bed or in a lunch break. Most days I was just subconsciously stressing that I wasn’t able to see the sun or cook at home and that I wasn’t “doing Lent right”.
The irony didn’t escape me.
If you’re a person even vaguely interested in responding to the needs of humanity and seeing God at work, you no doubt sense that there are a myriad of voices calling us to action, to change, to do more and to have more. There are so many things you need to be, stories to share, campaigns to join, initiatives to promote, articles to read, lessons to learn, eco-friendly alternatives to switch to, experiences to have, people to visit, ways to parent, podcasts to listen to, series to watch, blogs to follow.
So the temptation can be to see Lent as just another thing to have to do, another thing to respond to. That was my reality. In an effort to slow down, pare back and ‘be present’, I’ve been just as anxious and busy as ever. In a season of giving up, I took on more…
So here I am, at the beginning of the fourth week of Lent having ‘failed’ at all but a few of the things I took on and pondering giving it all up. And that was the point of it all to begin with. I don’t write to say that it isn’t great to aspire to do those things and to sign on to good causes but just to reflect on how easily I fell into the trap of doing more, taking on more, even in a season that’s meant for really quite the opposite.
In a society that has everything it needs and is still being sold more, a country where most of us are in the richest few percent of the world’s population but where rates of depression, anxiety and divorce are high, it could be helpful for us to do some giving up. It does us well to take a step back from the myriad of voices telling us how to live the good life and rather, press into the One who came and lived a compellingly alternate life.
Jesus is a phenomenal guy. It doesn’t take much time spent reading about or thinking on Him to see that. The way he lived, identifying with the poor, being with the vulnerable, subverting power structures, ushering in a better way, is worth pondering. The way he died and the claims about what happened afterward, are absolutely worth our attention.
That’s all I've resolved to do in the end and how I’m spending the rest of Lent. I’ll still try to catch a sunset or sunrise when I can (please come back Sydney sunshine) but ultimately I want to give up some time to really soak that truth in.
If that’s all Lent is about, if that’s all you give any extra thought to at this time, then that is enough, because if you let it, it’s bound to change everything.
Rebecca Solomon is TEAR's NSW Church Engagement Coordinator.