Lent has always felt a bit like death to me, a sinking feeling, a time to revisit or awaken regrets and longings, fears and losses. It's so easy to focus on what's wrong in our lives, to dwell on our shortcomings, to become obsessed with wanting the goodies we've given up or complaining about the disciplines we've taken on as punishment for our mistakes and foolishness.
But Lent doesn't need to be all about shame and condemnation. What it's really about is examining and discovering what comes between us and the Divine Source for which we hunger. What comes between might actually BE that sense of shame and condemnation: what if THAT were what we chose to give up for Lent? When did we decide that Lent was about doing stuff that would make us resent the church and God?
What if, instead of wallowing in sinfulness, grief and pain, we were to resolve to write down, every day, 5 gifts we're grateful for? What if, instead of giving up the fun things that feed us -- sweets, or chocolate, or french fries -- we were to take on another thing that feeds a different part of us: to read an uplifting book, or take a daily walk in the park, or add some meditation time? What if, instead of giving up something we love, we looked around our cluttered lives and gave up something -- every day -- that we DON'T love anymore, something that might enrich some other person's life?
What if, when -- as inevitably seems to happen for me -- that whiff of failure starts to fill our nostrils, we stop and sniff, then breathe it out; imagine she who breathes is a small sad child, and give her a hug of forgiveness and blessing. What if Lent is really about letting go of the "stuff" that bubbles up and filling our lungs with the rich scent of Divine Love?
What if, instead of standing here, staring at these gloomy skulls, I leave this still marble courtyard and choose instead to climb the stairs, to follow that mysterious robe that's leading me to some art-filled inner chamber? What if Lent is just about getting un-stuck?