Happy Lent, everyone. Oh, wait. Maybe dour Lenten greetings is more appropriate?
I love the season of Lent, these 40 days set apart for fasting, prayer, and remembering our mortality. There is a delicious melancholy to Lenten liturgies, where we abstain from "Alleluias" and spend extra time in silence. Journeying with Jesus in the desert for 40 days is the best set-up before revisiting the Gospel stories of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and - finally - Easter. I love being tied to the church calendar, knowing that Christians around the world are reading these stories with me.
I didn't always love Lent, probably because I didn't understand the role of lament in Christianity. In fact, I am still learning what it means to sit uncomfortably with pain and sorrow. I wrote a little about what it has meant for me to discover the Biblical practice of lament for the Stories from Exile blog.
Here's how it starts:
"When I was in middle school, I went on a summer wilderness trip at Bible camp. At the end of the two weeks of canoeing and backpacking through the buggy Wisconsin woods, I spent 24-hours on a “solo” - a time of prayer, fasting, and Bible reading on my own, equipped with a tarp, some twine, my sleeping bag, a flashlight, water bottle, Bible, journal, and a pen. As I sat in the woods under a pine tree, my laced up hiking boots folded beneath me, I wrote in my journal: When I go back home, I will have a quiet time every day. I will read the Bible. I will pray.
When I got home to my comfortable bed with the striped comforter, I sprawled out on my stomach with my Bible in my hands. I didn’t have a particular devotional to help guide my scripture reading, so I ran my thumbs along the page edges, sticking my thumbnail into a spot at random, opening the page and blindly pointing at a verse. It’s kind of like the Christian’s version of the Magic 8-ball. You swirl it around while asking a question, waiting for the triangle to appear with an answer: “It is certain,” “Ask again later,” “My reply is no.”
My finger landed on the first page of the book of Lamentations. This was a book of the Bible that I had never read before. I had never heard a sermon preached on it or a verse shared in devotions during youth group. It started like this:
“How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave.”
It only got more dour from there, describing the exile of the daughter of Zion, the filthiness of her skirts, her torment. Lots of tears and groaning.
It wasn’t the answer I was looking for when I opened the Bible willy-nilly. It didn’t tell me how to deal with my insecurities or how to find a boyfriend or whether I would ever run Varsity cross-country. There was nothing motivational about it. I slammed the Bible shut, declared myself a failed Bible reader, and proceeded to feel guilty about breaking my summer camp pledge for the rest of the year."