A celebration of Lent? Isn’t that a contradiction?
Those of us who grew up in the pre-Vatican II church and for sometime after saw Lent as dour and depressing, maybe even … creepy. I know as a child I was always put off by the purple shrouds covering the statues in the church. In my childish mind, it’s as if they were dead.
And who can forget being smeared with ashes on Ash Wednesday as the priest intoned, “Remember you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.”
Lent used to be all about repentance but with a negative twist.
To many, it merely felt like piling on the guilt for past transgressions. In actuality, repentance really means coming back home where we belong, to be filled with holiness so that we can then share it with those around us.
Isaiah 58:5 from today’s lectionary (Feb. 20)
describes the negative approach to perfection:
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Yet, this is not what our Lord desires. Instead:
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am! (verses 6-9a)
So, shouldn’t Lent be more about saying “yes” rather than saying “no?”
While I have been rethinking words such as “discipline” and “obedience,” seeing them more now as life-giving “yes” words (see previous post), I hadn’t done that yet with Lent. Until, I chatted with one of you.
In our chat, the reader said she looked forward to Lent as her “favorite time of the year,” adding that Lent is “an opportunity to work closely with the Lord to make change in myself .”
That made me stop short. I couldn’t enter into Lent now with that same dread I carried since my childhood. Couldn’t I too look at Lent as “an opportunity?”
We may fast from foods or back away from activities that have consumed us
(like the boob tube and the internet) but isn’t fasting really about creating space for something better?
Creating that space requires discipline. Yet filling that space with something holy can turn out to be far more satisfying in the end.
On the ride home last night I decided to sing to God to begin filling that space.
I wanted to sing songs where I knew all the words; this made me think of the St. Louis Jesuits.
Anyone involved in liturgical music from the 1970’s and 80’s will know the music of the St. Louis Jesuits. Their folk-style, scripture-based songs created a revolution in liturgical music (a revolution that was not embraced by everyone). But I embraced it. And when I found playlists on YouTube of all of their music, I broke into song joyfully.
If you have a smart phone (and a robust data plan), you too can sing along with the St. Louis Jesuits all the way home.
Singing the scriptures drew me into a deep place of prayer.
- I shed tears singing “Be Not Afraid” as I thought of the Christians in the Middle East being martyred and driven from their homes.
- I meditated on the wonder of God as I sang along with “O Beauty Ever Ancient.”
- I smiled and sang out with joy upon hearing “Sing to the Mountains.”
And then I thought, I have to share this opportunity with all of you.
Come and enter into prayer by singing the scriptures. There is nothing like music to move the soul, to tap into those things you wish to bring to God in prayer.
If you can, try singing with the St. Louis Jesuits the next time you have a long ride in the car. Here is a complete list of all the playlists on YouTube.
A word of warning: YouTube inserts an ad after every two songs played, just so you know. But the experience of singing the prayers of your heart make that interruption tolerable.
Lent can indeed be a time of celebration.
A time of joining with God and being filled to the brim with his Spirit so that you too will feel a compulsion to share.
Copyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey
Artwork: Denis Egan ssc_0414, Flickr Creative Commons, John Ragai Ash Wednesday Lent Season 2015 Flickr Creative Commons, The St. Louis Jesuits, from kilisyano.blogspot.com