Saturday, March 12, 2011

The little deaths of Lent

I read this paragraph by Catherine Doherty today, and believe it should be passed along. “Stand still, and allow the strange, deadly restlessness of our tragic age to fall away like the worn-out, dusty cloak that it is–a cloak that was once considered beautiful. The restlessness was considered the magic carpet of tomorrow, but now in reality we see it for what it is: a running away from oneself, a turning from that journey inward that all men must undertake to meet God dwelling within the depths of their souls. Stand still, and look deep into the motivations of life. Are they such that true foundations of sanctity can be built on them? For truly we have been born to be saints – lovers of Love who died for us! ‘There is but one tragedy: not to be a saint.’”

Lenten rose in my garden
As we embark on Lent, these thoughts come at an opportune time. If the 40 days before Easter week stand for anything, they should stand for reflection and preparation—and stillness. Rather than fretting about all that we could or should be doing, or what is being done to us, now is the time for the inward journey. Actually, most any time is right for a probing of the soul, but I don’t recommend making it a regular practice unless you’re prepared to bleed. We are more fragile on the inside than we realize. Such practice must be undertaken with care.

I’ve discovered from Lents of the recent past that it’s impossible for me to sustain over time the spiritual discipline that I can usually muster for the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It’s a season for a reason, meaning the direction of our thoughts and passions seem to turn with the revolution of the earth around the sun. You can almost feel the earth warming in Oregon this time of year as days lengthen and the rains gradually, erratically turn to spring showers. It’s a season when the rhythm of death and resurrection plays out in our gardens—literally before our eyes. Soon comes a more exuberant season, when personal reflection won’t come so naturally. I can sense the lateness of Lent this year, with Easter itself scarcely a month before the barbeques and outdoor pleasures of Memorial Day. The stillness and quiet that eases the inward journey is close to being lost.

My wife and children are better than I am at finding the motivation to surrender something meaningful for Lent. They have all committed to making a small sacrifice. The few million cancer cells I’ll be giving up on Tuesday should count for something, I figure. It seems an odd thought to have living tissue removed from one’s body that’s defined by its immortality. The problem with cancer is that it doesn’t know when to die. The demented genius of the mutated cells has fallen asleep with his foot on the gas pedal. With a PET scan right behind me and a surgery coming up, I’m taking a pass this year on the symbolism of a Lenten sacrifice. I am instead reading and meditating over the Book of John, and pondering the meaning of immortality as both Jesus taught it and as a cellular biologist might think of it. Perhaps cancer is simply a part of me that takes more seriously than the rest the biblical proposition that I am made to live forever. Is it possible that cancer is simply too much of a good thing?

As another blogger has written in his reflection on Lent, the Ash Wednesday of this past week is an odd thing. It’s a day when we not only think about death, we actually have death smeared on our faces—at least those who attend an Ash Wednesday service do. What an extraordinary act, given the “deadly restlessness” of our age, as Catherine Doherty calls it. You can’t run away from yourself when your thoughts are trained on our own little deaths of Lent and the big death of Good Friday. We must first pass through them all to reach the great dance of Easter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I’ve gained much from your reflections in the blog and our discussions. I wish I could claim even a few irenic thoughts per day. I hope the run in Portland went well and that the surgery on Tuesday is successful and uneventful.