by Jeremy Langill
If I’m being truly honest with myself, I’ve always been a little conflicted about Lent. Some years I find it a helpful and sacred time of reflection and new learning, and other years I find myself really struggling to fully engage and participate in any Lenten practice whatsoever.
Since the beginning of this program year, Ed Bacon has been preaching about and talking a lot about a new narrative—that we as Christians have a real responsibility to set a new course for the story of our faith, to be engaged in the real transformation of the many toxic narratives inherited in our religious traditions so that through that process of transformation something new and more closely aligned with God’s love will emerge.
Cue Ash Wednesday—in the midst of really engaging this new narrative, this liberating moment where old theological ideas can be, as St. Paul would say, “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (and hearts, I would add)—this service comes along to remind me of what a wretched sinner I am, and that I am at the terrible mercy of an angry and wrathful God who is very unhappy about my sinful ways. Talk about a smack in the face! I felt so disconnected from the words of the liturgy, that I could not even bring myself to recite them aloud.
What is so interesting, of course, is that the Ash Wednesday liturgy is not just about how bad we are. There are brilliant and inspiring moments (the reading from the Prophet Isaiah, for example) that remind us about our recurring case of spiritual amnesia when it comes to making sure our life and witness in this world line up with the heart and love of God. I’m totally okay with that, because ultimately that kind of spiritual reminder isn’t the result of my wretchedness as a person, but is really a reminder that I’m on a life-long journey and that sometimes I need to be “realigned with the grain of the universe” which is God’s love for us and for all.
So, I don’t really know where I’m at this Lent—I know I’m long past believing in my wretchedness or anyone else’s wretchedness—I’m long over the idea that Jesus had to die for my sins in order for me to be right with God. I think I’ll spend this Lent working on building up a new narrative—thinking, reflecting, and living in a new way with God and one another.