“You don’t need Lent to be a Christian,” my Word of Faith, Evangelical in-law said to me at the start of Lent last year. I replied, “Of course you don’t, you also don’t need the Bible.”
Truly, how many Christians had a “Bible” in the first 200-300 years of the Church? Exactly zero. Yet most Christians would concede that this time period produced many of faith’s greatest heroes. Of course the Bible is of paramount importance for Christians, but if one is going to speak in terms of what’s necessary to be a Christian one must discount the Bible as well. This sort of talk is high-treason for my Evangelical friends so it’s fun to throw it out there once in a while.
What is necessary in order to be a Christian is a life of forgiveness, humility, and love above all else (and yes of course faith, but faith is impossible without these). Amongst other things, the Bible delivers to our intelligence salvific history and knowledge of God; however, events such as Lent deliver us into the very life of salvation. From Scripture we gain an understanding of what is required to know God. From Lent we gain the actual experience. One can experience God without Lent to be sure, but one cannot experience God without practicing the very elements that make up Great Lent.
The first week of Lent this year has been critical for me to reenter the life of God.
Without the life of God the first thing to go is my peace. Once peace is gone everything else is downhill, I become a self-conscious person, out for my own good, irritable, internally chaotic, nervous, etc. Lent always has the effect of putting my feet back on holy ground; it brings me back to a full-awareness of my psychic and spiritual state, which, without a constant state of remembrance of God, is little more than ‘controlled panic.’ “Oh, that’s just because God is your crutch and you’re afraid of the real world without God,” my atheist readers will say in unison. No, it’s because I live in a constant state of thinking about life and death and such thoughts force me to deny myself the luxury of deflection and distraction which the entire world seems lost in today.
It’s easy to not panic about life and death when you never spend time away from your computer screen, iphone, conversations, work, sex, alcohol, meds, etc., ad infinitum. But spending your life in the phantasmal world of the intellect and not in the moment of reality works to get you through the night, but it is a wholesale forfeit of life. I theorize that the main reason we are so good at distracting ourselves from the moment of reality is because we are instantly reminded of our aloneness in the world, the epitome of which is our very death. We will go to any extreme, pay whatever the cost, and spend whatever time necessary to deny ourselves such reminders. Why do you think we lock people up in a cell as punishment? If we truly enjoyed ourselves prison would be a vacation.
Pascal once said that most all troubles in life could be narrowed down to the fact that most people cannot sit quite in a room for 10 minutes alone with themselves (paraphrase).
A good dose of quiet and stillness of mind will do more revealing of God than 1000 sermons.
Lent is a time to cultivate that sort of stillness like no other time of the year. Someone will argue that one can always evoke stillness into their lives without waiting until Lent or some other occasion to engage in it. Absolutely, but Lent offers a unique opportunity of mind similar to how, say, the Olympics offer a unique opportunity to an athlete. A person may be one of the best runners in the world, but it is not until they begin training for the specific event of the Olympics that they really reach down to their depth and pull out all of their potential. Pascha is our spiritual ‘Olympics’ as Orthodox Christians. Pascha is the high point of our liturgical year not only because it is the death and resurrection of our Lord but because it is our own baptism as well: we are buried and resurrected with Christ on Pascha; it is the time when our baptismal vows are remembered in a way unlike any other time. Prior to becoming Orthodox, Easter for me required little preparation. I only needed enough time to buy those little plastic eggs, fill them with jellybeans, and hide them around the house. Nowadays the preparation is nothing short of a complete existential shift. No plastic eggs needed.
Anyway, these are some thoughts and feelings I’ve been working with this first week of Lent. I will write a part two at the close of next week, and so on. I’m sure they will be absolutely riveting. Thanks for reading!