A Staff Lenten Reflection
By: Meg Schwarz
Perhaps one of the most difficult puzzles I have had to solve in my life has been piecing together the answer to the seemingly never-ending question of how I am meant to live into my calling. While I recognize how truly miniscule this ‘puzzle’ may seem to some- those who have experienced eternal loss, danger, instability, violence and poverty- or how insignificant this ordeal may seem to others- ‘Your calling? How ‘blessed’ you are to worry about such things rather than feeding your family’- I have only been able to run away from the notion that my self-worth and sense of value in life are intricately tied-up in my deep need to fully believe in the work I pursue. I anticipate that this profound prerequisite will ebb and flow throughout my life, bleeding into other ‘must-haves’ and taking the back seat to more primary priorities. At this juncture, however, I find myself continually fascinated by and drawn toward a shining beacon of fulfillment through my ministry…whatever that ministry may be. Could the answer to this question be my guiding light? Through living into this answer, will I better embrace and live into that light? Is this my way to ‘be’ the light?
This question of ‘being’ the light is not one that I wake up asking myself every day. Nor is this a question which has been answered in my life through a bolt of lightning. Instead, I find my understanding of the ways in which my journey will bring me closer to ‘being the light’ to be much like a steady stream of spring rain, at certain times more obvious than at others and often showing up when you least expect it. Though this awareness has not left me soaked to the bone and acutely aware of where, exactly, my ‘place’ in life may be, I’ve come to yearn for the ceaseless showers that guide me along this path; each rain brings me closer, or so I believe. Perhaps it is my propensity to link my unending search for vocation to my relationship with Christ, but I can’t help feeling that this season of showers in my life is particularly appropriate as we await the dawn of Lent. Just as I anticipate what lies ahead for my life, we all anticipate our resurrection through and renewal in Christ; either way, the outcome brings us closer to the light. It’s the time before the light, the vast darkness, which is a bit troublesome for us.
Outwardly we perceive this time of year, awash with rules of deprivation, as a season during which we should build our lives (or, at least 40 days of our lives) around “repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial” (BCP, p. 295). We plan to ‘give-up’ sugar, alcohol, Girl Scout cookies and the like in an effort to imitate Jesus’ time in the wilderness, during which he truly was ‘without’, at least in the physical sense of the word. If we can simply last 40 days, we posit, then perhaps we can better understand Christ, our relationship with Christ and how we can better serve God through Christ; further, if we can simply last 40 days, then perhaps we are worthy of Christ’s resurrection and renewal.
But what if, instead of surrendering to the notion that we should spend these 40 days in a time of want, we considered allowing ourselves to experience a different sense of wilderness? This wilderness does not have to be a barren wasteland where we deprive ourselves, but rather it can be a land where we confront those vices in our lives which keep us from truly recognizing that we are already renewed in Christ, even in the midst of our ugliness and brokenness. Maybe we hold certain perceptions of those from whom we are different and these perceptions prevent us from seeing the Christ in each other. Maybe we react too hastily when an idea does not go as planned rather than seeing the grace of change and imagination. Maybe we assume so fiercely that our viewpoint is the only acceptable one that we alienate those around us, painfully and permanently. Maybe our vice, our brokenness, is something we have pushed deep within us because of fear or shame. Maybe we have made it so small that we can barely hear it unless we create a wilderness in our lives and allow it to echo loudly.
Maybe, just maybe, we can create this wilderness during Lent and let ourselves embrace and converse with these parts of ourselves, though they may be drenched in the shadows still. Perhaps if we are able to sit with these vices in our wilderness- to come face-to-face with our deepest depths and scariest truths- then we can more easily move toward our renewal and resurrection in Christ. The renewal has been there, calling to us; the resurrection has been there, waiting for us to seize it; we’ve merely been too consumed with our own brokenness to feel their light. I don’t suggest that we use this Lenten season as an excuse to neglect those parts of us that we would like to strengthen, improve and transform. Rather, I believe that through Lent we are offered a beautiful opportunity to encounter our own brokenness, those pieces of ourselves which we consider to be in ruins, with the understanding that we may never be fully unbroken, but will always be beloved. Then, once our deepest depths can sit with our truest resurrection, our holiest renewal and our most powerful love, we may be able to see- and be- the light ourselves. To me, this seems far worthier than depriving ourselves of Girl Scout cookies.