I’m afraid Lent won’t end, and I’m afraid of what will happen if it does.
I started this season inadvertently – lent crept up on me from behind. I was mired in some sort of inexplicable and rootless sadness. The accumulation of being far from home, navigating my way through transient and shifting relationships, the disillusionment of working in a church, and the challenge that seminary poses to deepest-held assumptions caught up with me in the middle of this second year here.
Frustrated and living too frenetically to dissect it, I bailed on a spring break relief trip to New Orleans. Instead, I sat on the couch in my eerily empty apartment, watched the entire series of Sports Night on DVD, and went through several boxes of tissues in a spectacular display of self-pity and catharsis. I ignored phone calls and pissed off my best friend.
Then, I went home, sat with my parents, ate with my family, drank in the beauty of the mountains, and remembered that all of life – even sadness (maybe especially sadness) - is sacred. I read Annie Dillard, who reminded me that “the way we live our days is, of course, the way we live our lives.” I realized that I didn’t like the way I was living my life because I didn’t like the way I was living my days.
I instituted a matrix of disciplines to ward off sadness. I stopped watching television, insisted on getting 7 hours of sleep each night, began writing lists of each day’s sacraments, became a vegetarian, and joined a meditation group. On Ash Wednesday, I set fire to my attachments and watched the paper burn away. I began to live in the liturgical calendar, my self-imposed disciplines anchored by the cycle of Sunday morning and Wednesday night worship.
My days are shaped a bit differently, now, and so is my perspective. I’ve found, counter-intuitively, that the discipline and structure creates more space for reflection, acknowledgement, and awareness than the willy-nilly, tohu a vohu free-for-all I was living in before. Life might still be chaos, but a little bit of order seems to make that life livable.
I’m afraid Lent won’t end. I’ve been planning and facilitating and attending and walking through Holy Week services every day since Sunday, and the space and silence are hard. To sit in silence, to wash one another’s feet, to see the cross veiled, and to know that we are unable to call ourselves Christians in these days…these are hard things.
But at the same time, the space and silence are beautiful. Sara says she’s becoming addicted to silence. I think we’re silence-deprived, living frenetic lives, full of noise and crowds and obligations, so that these days of quiet and reflection and sitting are a balm for souls rubbed raw. I’m afraid of what will happen on Sunday, when Jesus returns, when we are alive again, and have to return to living in the world, when the balm of silence fades away and our raw souls are forced back out into the open. Will the sadness return? And what will we do with it, then, outside these structures of discipline and order we've established?