This past weekend Centennial house and St. Columba house came together for a Lent retreat in Granby. I haven’t participated in Lent the past couple years, but our retreat has gotten me really excited. When I have participated in Lent, the people around me never seemed to understand it. They often would tell me just giving up chocolate for 40 days seemed pretty useless and that the whole thing was a petty way to make yourself feel better for sacrificing something pointless. Soon I began to believe the same.
However, my experiences with Colorado ESC this past week have quickly changed my mind. One component of our shared formation at retreat was to listen to a sermon by Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor. Her opinion of what Lent truly is about is something I’ve never heard before. I’ve always thought Lent to be a time for punishing ourselves for our sins, like gluttony – hence giving up chocolate – and sacrificing something in honor of Jesus sacrificing himself for us. In her sermon, Rev. Brown Taylor focused on the wilderness exam from Luke 4, describing Lent as a time to voluntarily enter the “wilderness” in order to gain the “grit and clarity” necessary to follow Jesus to the cross. She says Lent is not a time to give up parts of our lives because they’re bad, but because they are distractions between us and God. She calls these distractions our “pacifiers.” Finally, she shared that Lent comes from the word “spring” which can be interpreted, Rev. Brown Taylor says, as a “greening of the human soul.”
At our retreat, we attended a local parish and the sermon told a similar story. Sin is defined as actions that bring us farther from God and the definition of penitence says nothing about punishment. Lent is a time to remove pacifiers from our lives and spend the tough, scary moments we experience as a result, with God.
I’ve given up and added a couple things for my Lent regimen this year and have already slipped up, but I’m not beating myself up about it. Rather, I’m recognizing that forgetfulness and realizing how much of a habit my pacifiers really are. I’ve removed some pretty ingrained supports and it’s taking an adjustment, but I can see now how those supports get in the way of a relationship with God. I now know, Lent is about finding out who you really are, what your life is all about, and discovering the distractions that help you survive, but keep you from truly living.