The season of Lent will soon be here. Too soon this year, I think.
I’ve always rather liked Lent. Some of the darker and more solemn traditions notwithstanding, I’ve always been inspired by the story of Jesus in the wilderness and I appreciate the idea of a wilderness time for anyone. I’ve tried to encourage people to embrace it and engage in the practices that you would when seeking some kind of a wilderness experience: an opportunity to get away for quiet reflection, self-examination, repentance and preparation for the journey through Holy Week to Easter.
But this year feels different. This year, I’m having trouble finding any kind of enthusiasm for Lent at all. It feels like we’re already very much in a wilderness, a cold and a lonely one where fear and hate divide and isolate us. A wilderness of our own making.
When we use our differences to divide and separate us, when we label people by their religion or culture in order to keep them at a distance, when we build walls to keep others out, we might think that we’re simply protecting ourselves. We might even feel justified in using the power we have, in this moment, and satisfied that it’s our own security that’s most important. But wait. We just let fear and ignorance turn into anger and hate. We set aside wonder, curiosity and wisdom and replaced them with indifference, rejection and foolishness. We put aside building community and built a wall instead.
When we do that, it doesn’t feel like security and safety to me, it feels like we’re creating a wilderness around us that stifles our own growth and, isolated, leads to stagnation and eventually death. In the long run, there’s nothing life-giving in that kind of wilderness, there’s nothing that encourages growth or renewal.
People thrive in engagement, not segregation, cultures grow when they welcome the awareness and knowledge of other cultures and religions, well, religions are just the organization and structure that we humans put around what we believe. And surely every religion must have love, compassion and grace at its heart or it has no meaning, it’s just about power and nothing more than a way to organize and control people.
The world this week seems to be full of darker, colder wildernesses, despite the heat of rhetoric and protests. It seems like we want to push others away harder than ever.
So perhaps this isn’t a time to be thinking of Lent, but rather the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus reminds the people of something I think we already know, but so easily forget: we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-14). We season, sometimes spicy, sometimes sweet, and we enlighten and warm, sure. But remember, too, that in Jesus day, these were valuable commodities, appreciated much more than today. Salt wasn’t in pretty much every food or on every table and you couldn’t just flip a switch and turn a light on in the dark.
And I don’t think for a moment that Jesus means this to apply only to a select few or a particular people. We are all salt and light, all of us in our, oh, so very different ways. We are all part of this great feast for the senses that is how we live, all of us. We need everyone, working together, to be the “city on a hill” that can’t be hid (Matt. 5:14). This is no glass and concrete urban blightscape full of uniform automatons, it’s a colourful mosaic of structures and personalities, light and sound, the pinnacle of what we can be. An Eden, not a wilderness.
Please. Don’t just be salt and light to others. Be open to flavour. Open your eyes to the wonder that so many lights can show us. Don’t hide under a bushel or behind a wall.