Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 27, 2006
Revisit your desert during Lent
For much of the year, we can live by the notion of the all-powerful God. Jesus is the one who performs miracles, who outfoxes the Pharisees, who dazzles us with his teaching. This can make for a comfortable faith, one in which God's job is to vindicate the righteous . . . and, of course, we are the righteous.
The faith of Lent, however, is a journey with the powerlessness of God. On that first Sunday of Lent, we see Jesus turn his back on those worldly temptations of wealth and power. On Good Friday, Jesus is stripped naked, beaten, humiliated, hung on a cross and killed. The miracle worker is nowhere in sight.
Can Lent make sense to a person who has never been in a place of despair, whose prayer has never been reduced to pounding on the floor shouting at God only to be answered with . . . silence? Can you know what it means for Jesus to be in the desert unless you have been there too, hungry to your bones, starved for salvation?
Second-hand knowledge of the desert won't cut it. It will only provide easy answers and pious platitudes. It cannot give the gift of deep emotional suffering.
Perhaps Lent can best be experienced in the second half of life, after disillusionment, abandonment and emptiness have taken their toll. Before that, you can perform the Lenten rituals and they may touch you with their beauty and austerity.
They can awaken your soul to the fact that the day will come when you too cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Such preparation for that day of being broken and shattered is not to be brushed over lightly. This preparation may help to carry one through when the day arrives. For that day does provide a crossroads: Accept the powerlessness of God or erect barriers of resentment or hostility to protect oneself from the emptiness.
The prayer, fasting and almsgiving of Lent are little ways of participating in that powerlessness. We deliberately attempt to weaken ourselves so as to share more in Christ's journey. This is obvious enough with fasting and almsgiving.
But prayer too - if it goes beyond asking for stuff - brings us into a relationship of utter dependence.
Jesus came to bring the good news to the poor because they are the ones who can understand it. If we are self-satisfied, powerful and in control, we cannot know the good news of forgiveness. From a position of power, forgiveness can be an instrument of control, a means of piling guilt onto others.
But the poor know their need for mercy. Only when one is broken down and beaten up - and when he admits to himself that that is his situation - can the grace of God do its work.
Normally, we don't stay beaten up forever. But having been there, lost and hopeless, is a well that one can draw on for a lifetime. The tragedy of the Pharisees is that they were always in control, always had the answers. They were forever challenging Jesus to provide a sign, to show his power. Jesus gave these mockers the only fitting response - silence.
Lent is the time to draw from the well of our own times of powerlessness and of Jesus' powerlessness too.
We need Lent. We need yearly to live again those times when we had only empty hands. It can draw us back to reality. It can also challenge us to drive out the vestiges of our own Pharisaism. It can make us one with the powerless Saviour.
- Glen Argan
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