A Holy Season
Lent has begun.
This season of ashes and repentance, a re-orienting back to God. A journey like a long, quiet path that leads to the Passion story and the resurrection.
It is one of the church year’s most beautiful, sacred seasons.
Last week a friend of mine, who grew up in the Christian church but has long since left the hallways of traditional churches, told me that she still celebrates Lent. It is a holy and special time for her, one that she marks faithfully every year.
When someone asked her what it is that draws her about the season, she closed her eyes and breathed, trying to decide how to express the spiritual depth that Lent represents to her. It is difficult to put into words the things that are most spiritually significant to us.
Returning not Restricting
These words of the prophet Joel, traditionally read on Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season, offer a powerful statement of the meaning of this time:
Rend your hearts, not your clothes.
Return to the Lord your God for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. (Joel 2:13)
So often people think Lent is a time for self-restriction, for giving something up, denying oneself pleasure. But I believe that focus misses the true core of Lent, which is about the heart.
“Rend your hearts, not your clothes,” the prophet writes. Don’t worry about whether your sacrifice looks sufficiently meaningful to the world. Don’t worry about whether you’re making it to evening prayer every Wednesday night. Don’t worry about how much meat or sugar or coffee you consume.
Instead, rend open your heart and offer your deepest vulnerability to a loving, gracious God. The word “repent,” which we so often connect to some kind of emotional guilt, simply means “to turn around.” To re-turn. To notice which way your heart is facing, and quietly, gently, re-turn it toward God.
My prayer for you, my friends, is that this Lent season may be a time of returning, not restricting. May it be a time of reflection and healing, a time of moving deeper into the heart of the God who ever moves deeper into yours.
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What does Lent mean to you? Have you ever “given up” something to celebrate Lent? If so, what did you learn from the experience? What are you hoping to explore this season as you rend your heart and re-turn toward God?