Saturday, March 12, 2011
The little deaths of Lent
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.