By NEMS Daily Journal
Lent is the church’s rebuttal to the secular culture’s clamor for more. It starts next week on Ash Wednesday, a day that the faithful are asked to consider the paradox that less leads to more – that one must lose one’s life in order to gain it.
The 40-day season, minus Sundays, is a time of penitential discipline for many Christians as they prepare for Easter. Prayer, self-denial and self-giving are the hallmarks of a well-observed Lent.
A community event in Tupelo on Ash Wednesday – the Salvation Army’s annual “Empty Bowls” luncheon – symbolizes the Lenten call: A pared-down meal of soup, less than a normal lunch for most people, with proceeds going to feed the hungry.
Even in tough economic times such as these, most of us have far more than we need. All that stuff gets in the way of recognition of our reliance on God and our connection to others.
The culture says we can never have enough. God says, trust in me. Allow me to loosen the grip the world has on you.
In his prayer for Ash Wednesday in the Lenten devotional book, “Show Me the Way,” the late Henri Nouwen acknowledged the tension between what the culture commands and what God requires:
“I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you, but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, human respect, pleasure, power and influence. Help me become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.
“I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me. The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life. I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions. There are no times or places without choices. And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.
“Please, Lord, be with me at every moment and in every place. Give me the strength and the courage to live this season faithfully, so that, when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life which you have prepared for me. Amen.”
Becoming deaf to the siren calls of the culture may be the hardest of disciplines for the faithful. But faithfulness to God is about liberation, not enslavement – about freedom from the stresses, anxieties and feelings of inadequacy that the world’s devotion to material success and accumulation produces. It’s about an abundant spiritual life to fill the deadening void left by pursuing the things that can never fully satisfy.
Lent calls us to confront that reality and to become more the kind of people God has created us to be. That means acknowledging that with all that we have, we still feel empty, and that only God can fill the space. It means relinquishing our tendency to make ourselves our own god, and to leave the job to God. And it means allowing God to redirect us to the needs of others, close by and far away.
One Lent won’t necessarily get us there, but the journey has to start somewhere.