Friday 12 February 2016

Lent and The Hundred Acre Wood or You're Full of It Too

A few years ago, I wrote a piece about Lent that addresses a bit of a pet peeve of mine.  I was reminded of it this week because I’m on a sabbatical working on a creative project around stories for children and it used a particularly familiar childhood image.  But, as I read it, it occurs to me that it might have sounded a little less than serious and a little less than respectful of traditions that have meaning for many and it needed something more.  It is, after all though, just my opinion and it went something like this.

Well, it’s the season of Lent in many churches.  Sigh.

Lent’s that time in the church year that’s usually characterized by the colour purple and hymns in a minor key.  Slow hymns.  Really, really slow hymns.  Sigh.

Oh and giving up things.  Have you given something up for Lent?  Not a lot of people do that anymore, but it used to be a popular tradition.  Not much anymore, though.  Sigh.
The origin of giving something up for Lent lies in the season being a penitential one, one in which fasting was commonly practiced.  Fasting, almsgiving (giving to the sick and needy) and prayer were the cornerstones of Lent.  These reminded us of the need to be penitent, to engage in some self-examination and repentance leading up to Holy Week and Easter.  But before we can get there, the story of Jesus being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness leads us into Lent, a dark, dry and dreary time.  Sigh.

Okay, that’s a lot of sighing.  Some of those traditions and ways of understanding Lent have been, and still are, meaningful to many.  But I wonder if we might not also consider that there’s another way of engaging that time of introspection, self-examination, reflection and repentance.

The story that frames the season of Lent for many people is this: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”  (Luke 4:1-2)  Jesus, in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil.  Wilderness, temptation and the devil.  All things we fear or, at least, would rather avoid.

I wonder if we haven’t mis-characterized the season of Lent.  I wonder if we haven’t made Lent the Eeyore of the church year, when it needs to be the Tigger.

Remember them in the Winnie the Pooh stories?  Eeyore is the melancholy, pessimistic and fearful gray donkey.  Tigger is the enthusiastic, energetic and curious tiger.  

I think we need to re-engage Lent as a Tigger time.  Yes, we should be thinking about our relationship with God, learning about living with Jesus in our lives and considering what “repentance” might mean to us.  (It doesn’t just mean saying or being sorry for wrong, by the way, it means to take action to change as well).  But I think we should do that with enthusiasm, with curiosity and with joy.

For the earliest Christians, called “the people of the Way,” Easter was the focus of the year and an important time for baptism and for people joining their faith community.  Consequently, the weeks leading up to Easter were a time to learn about Jesus and how to live as Jesus taught, about our relationship with God and being part of this new community.  That’s an exciting time, lived with enthusiasm by committed Christians.

The word “lent,” by the way, comes from an old Germanic word that means “spring.”  You remember spring - when the days get longer, it’s warmer and stuff starts growing again - it’s a time of new life and growth.

But most important of all, go back and look at those verses from Luke again.  I don’t think Jesus was afraid to go into the wilderness, he didn’t back away from engaging temptation and he didn’t fear the devil.  Jesus, says Luke, was full of the Holy Spirit.  He wasn’t empty, reluctant, defenceless or afraid.  Jesus went with the power of God, the Holy Spirit.  The devil didn’t really stand a chance.

You, too, are full of the Holy Spirit.

Look back at the season of Epiphany.  Remember all those ways in which Jesus is “revealed,” not just to us, but in us.  The Spirit is in you.  Really.  There’s a little Tigger in everyone.

Easter’s coming.  Let’s take some time to examine our life, think about where God is in it, how we might be living out what Jesus taught and how we could live it better.  Let’s take on the task of trying to grow and be better people making a better world.  Let’s do it with enthusiasm, with sincerity and with commitment.

Easter’s coming.  It’s Tigger Time.

That, right there was my closing line: it’s Tigger Time.  I said it and I stand by it.

But it shouldn’t have been - and isn’t - the end.  Curiosity, wonder, fearlessness, enthusiasm and faith in God’s presence bring us to, and through, the journey.  The journey, itself, is full of questions and experiences that teach us, mold us and transform us.  Engage them all.

For Lent, or any day really, these words of Henri Nouwen are a really good place to start: “Did I offer peace today?  Did I bring a smile to someone’s face?  Did I say words of healing?  Did I let go of my anger and resentment?  Did I forgive?  Did I love?’  These are the real questions.”