Changing Seasons

This week (today, actually) marks the end of Epiphany and the beginning of Lent. We stand in the shifting of liturgical seasons: why does this matter? I did not grow up in a church that paid much attention to the liturgical calendar, at least no more attention than to other national or religious holidays. But Western Theological Seminary’s morning prayers pay close attention to the lectionary, and to the liturgical seasons: in litany, in imagery, in music, in proclamation, in mood. This has been an enjoyable experience for me…until this semester.

This Epiphany has been a season of spiritual desolation for me. I blame the liturgical prayers prayed during our morning chapel times. We ask our Lord Jesus to make himself known, and we pray for light, and we pray for revelation and inspiration. These are all traditionally the inner works of Holy Spirit. I was reminded quite violently that to pray to the Spirit is to pray dangerously, not to be done carelessly.

The Spirit answered these prayers promptly and powerfully in my life. The past month has been full of uncomfortable self-revelations and small epiphanies, all of which have left me exposed and vulnerable. The Spirit switched on the cliched interrogator’s spotlight over those places within me I wasn’t aware of, and I have been left stunned and disoriented. My classes have all conspired against me to drag me through a semester of intense inner reflection and self-examination. As Epiphany ends, this work does not; however, the harsh shock of seeing myself laid bare is past. Before me lies the decision: to cover up again and forget what I saw, continuing as I have done? Or to embrace the transformation offered, and critically and carefully move forward with the help and guidance of the Spirit?

Thus, Lent looks unpredictably promising. In the past, I have approached Ash Wednesday with trepidation and suspicion: what does it mean to contemplate the cross? What is the value of this season of macabre, dread anticipation? Also, I have either fasted from some small pleasure or felt guilty for not fasting. But guilt seems to be the predominating emotion with which I have approached Ash Wednesday.

This Lent feels surprisingly and welcomely different: I feel hope. Having seen the depth of my depravity during Epiphany, and understanding that it is for all of these reasons that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), I look forward to Lent with a radiant hope that I am not left in my sin without solace, without salvation. Jesus came as a light, yes, but for the purpose of restoration, not condemnation. My redemption has been sealed on the cross, and this is cause for great assurance, even in the thick of spiritual turmoil and painful self-discovery.


“What Shall We Do for Lent?”

“Lent is not a temporary affectation of gloom or a brisk interlude for self-improvement. It is being in the wilderness, which means stopping long enough to recognize the truth of our inertia and faithlessness. This deadness inside is a fact. On Ash Wednesday we are called to face this fact–but then what? What shall we do? … True repentance, true change of heart, consists in grasping the fact that we are called to be in love with God, and that the love with which we love God is something already given to us…Repentance is coming alive to our given identity as lovers of God.”

~ Martin L. Smith, SSJE, from a sermon on Lent