Its a little after 10 in the evening and Great Compline is done. The challenge of Lent is upon us and the joyous struggle has begun.
The services are familiar and it takes just a little time to return to the ancient rythms. Life outside of the church door stops for a while and we are timeless in a holy place. The prayer of St. Ephraim reminds us again of why we are here, to recognize our need of grace and tend to the tasks of our salvation.
We journey through Lent alone but together. Alone in that we are called to focus on ourselves and not on others. Our work is our own and what we believe the sins of others may be are not our business. Yet we are together as well because we share a common struggle, a common hope, and a common joy.
In the weeks to come there will be more services with names like Akathist and Pre-Sanctified. They all mean something and in Holy Week they merge so deeply that it actually feels like Liturgies interrupted by life rather than the other way around. The season demands our attention and seems incomplete if done in fractions.
The energy of Lent has begun, may its momentum carry us to the holiest night in the world.
Overheard a comment yesterday about how old fashioned it was to give up something for Lent.
Perhaps it is but I don’t understand it. The older I get the more I see why I have to have Lent and not just the modern “add a few nice deeds to your life for a month” kind, but rather the old fashioned Lent of serious examination and struggle.
The truth is there are serious adjustments I need to make. Even a cursory review produces too long a list for a few short weeks and the truth it tells about who I am and where I need to go slices through my mirages. Dust and debris settle into my life without my notice and that does not take into account those things I willingly embrace each time I chose the temporal over the eternal.
Its a strange situation when the things I crave are so poisonous to me, so ready to tear Heaven away from me, and so much like hell even now. Adding sad to strange is that the cure lies in the acts of examination, struggle, repentance and renewal that are the heart of Lent as it developed over time and yet it is doing those very things that has become “old fashioned”. Though the cure is close at hand I choose the sickness.
It is hard to be exposed, to stand naked, to have the core of your being opened and the rot allowed to seep out. I wish there was some other way but it is not to be. Deep wounds require deep cures, it is the way of things. Yet one thing keeps me going.
When I see myself as I am I also see that the tasks of Lent, the purging of the old and moving towards the holy, is everywhere permeated with God’s love and desire for me to draw closer to Him. When I put a foot in front of the other towards God I become more alive, more whole, more human, more of everything that I was intended to be. If sin is a sweetness that covers a bitter poison then repentance is a bitterness that soon melts away to a transcending sweetness. That is where the joy lies, a joy that in some small measure can only be experienced to the extent that one truly engages Lent as it was meant to be and endures its hardships in hope.
Surely there is a bit of vanity in having a blog and thinking that somehow what you have to say may matter to someone somewhere.
But these are crazy times, times I could not have imagined growing up in the middle of Wisconsin. We all wanted to be Packers then and life had it complications but they seem small, even docile compared to the 24 hours seven days a week everything in this minute is the most important issue in the world noise that marks this world.
So here I am a traveling Priest, an Orthodox Christian, serving three parishes in one way or another in three states. And as the world seems to want things to go lower and lower I try my best to stay afloat buoyed by higher things.
Somehow I believe. I can’t tell you why, but I do. Life has meaning in these days in a way it may not have had all things been well and the world not so desperate. Bearing the light, even in a dim and sinful way, somehow matters more in darker times. There’s nothing there that really has anything to do with me, but the message somehow matters more now than ever.
So I take up writing and hope that it makes a difference. If this dies along the way I will have the comfort of knowing that I tried. If it lives those who read it will perhaps be changed and the world they live in as well and that will make all the difference.
Vanity? Perhaps. A calling? We’ll see.