“Is not this the fast that I choose: to break the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free …. remove their yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil…then your light shall rise in the darkness and the gloom be like noonday.” (Isaiah 58: 1-12, edited mightily).
Isaiah’s words from Ash Wednesday set a tone for a Lent that is not primarily about giving something up, rather putting something on. Isaiah’s sweeping indictment of gestures of repentance (putting on sackcloth and placing ashes on one’s head) without real transformation is/was meaningless. Isaiah says that it is much more important to break the bonds that hold us in bondage than to be overly concerned about mere feints and stabs at some sense of grieving over our sinfulness. Lent, at is heart, is about God’s love, not God’s retribution. We are bound to God because God created us and loves us; we are made in Her image. We are beautiful and beloved. God’s compassion knows no limits.
It can be very useful to “give up” something for Lent, but only inasmuch as that giving up reminds us of God in some way, because by giving something up, we have more room for something else. Practicing being in closer relationship with God is really the best way to keep a holy Lent. I am trying to give up complaining this year, as I have become its patron saint of late, I think. What might my leaving complaints behind do for my relationship with God? Well, if I decide I am going to be more grateful, more of the time, for God’s blessings, then perhaps a void will be filled in a way that pleases God, serves God, and opens the way for deeper appreciation of God.
We are all struggling in life, one way or the other. Life deals us some truly unreasonable and vicious blows and, often, for no real reason (it is not God doing it, I can assure you). Lent also reminds us that in the midst of our great trials, God is present; God’s grace is not absent. The practice of seeing God’s grace in those who attend to us, for instance, in needy patches of our lives can help us to foster a more abiding sense of God’s love for us, generally. Lent is a time for us to practice things that we normally might not. Lent is about dislocation, changing our view of life (both human and Divine) in a new way. What plans have you made to find a new way of looking at God and the world? If your answer is “none” (yet), you are not alone. Take some time today to figure out a new way of praying, a new way of reflecting, a willingness to read Holy Scripture everyday and, all the while, remembering that you are beloved by God.