The Lenten Journey
This morning's sermon (it is Palm Sunday, to those outside the Orthodox world) was a good reminder to me of the purpose of Lent. Namely, it is a journey. That's something I can live with. Rather than trying to "get something out of it" I am striving toward a goal as if by passage, by traversing space and time, toward an end. The end is, of course, spiritual perfection, but not spiritual perfection for it's own sake: spiritual perfection as a natural consequence of an encounter with God. Namely, coming to find yourself in the image and likeness of Him: as you were created to be.
Lent is a journey, a passage through the soul. You come to grips quite quickly with your weaknesses and frustrations. You come face to face with them. And so, perhaps for many (at least for myself) it is a journey though the valley of the shadow of death.
What is the shadow of death? It is the darkness on the other side of the sun from DEATH, is it not? And what is death? Death is separation from God, from Life, from everything that is good. From everything that is salvific and beautiful.
I am sure I have made this journey before. I am sure that I make it often, that I pass this way again and again, seeing in myself my own imperfections, seeing in myself my own foolishness, selfishness, hatred and lust.
The point isn't to avoid self-gratification. Because even to take a single drop of water on your tongue or to eat a cracker is to some degree gratifying to yourself. God doesn't ask anyone to commit suicide. The point isn't avoidance of self-gratification, but rather sacrifice. The point is making some sort of sacrifice that you can feel. We make these sacrifice together, as a big family. Some of us sacrifice more than others, but we all aim at the same sacrifice, a simple thing: to go without meat or dairy. Well in an ancient, apostolic, historic sense, it is a simple thing. Unfortunately in modern times it has become exceedingly complex. Maybe in the rest of the world, folks live a more simple life. If they want something to eat, they make a trip out to the garden and dig it up and throw it in a bowl. But, unfortunately, in America we have become accustomed to eating things in packages, and cans, and pre-prepared foods in every form imaginable. It is difficult to go without dairy, because you can't find things to eat that don't have trace amounts of diary in them. Then on the other hand if you work real hard at refining your foodstuffs, to weed out all the dairy, you end up on the verge of starvation because all of our pre-processed food has had all of the nutritional content processed right out of it.
Well, anyway, keeping the fast with rigidity becomes complex, which is quite the opposite of the purpose of the fast (simplicity.) The point of the fast is to think less about food so you can turn your mind to God. But unfortunately we end up thinking more about food, because you are constantly thinking about how to devise the next meal so that it will be half-way nourishing, taste like something other than cardboard or chalk, and still be within the regulations of the fast.
So some of us become discouraged.
But Lent as a journey goes beyond the fast (and whatever degree you have been able to follow it.) Lent as a journey encompasses the liturgical material of the services, and the constant awareness of your sins, and how you can turn things around otherwise. Lent as a journey is an important time to consider the plight of the poor, and learn how to give: lovingly and helpfully. Lent as a journey is when you stop yelling at your wife and children, and let yourself get watery eyed over your faults and indiscretions.
I, for one, have become exceedingly aware of my sins this Lent. I have made an attempt to do a thing or two to help those in need. I have tried (and failed) to keep the dietary fast, but what is more important is that I have tried (and failed) to love my brother. But the important thing is the trying. That's what we all do during Lent. And trying is not the path, nor is it the journey, but it is a tiny slice of the destination. If we can reform ourselves to aways "try" we are well on our way in this great journey of life: from Earth to Heaven.