A nod to Saturday Night Live: I confess that Lent is often for me the “Debby Downer” of liturgical seasons, 40 days when I’m supposed to feel more miserable than thou, when I’m called to live into the definition of a puritan, i.e., someone who is unhappy because somebody somewhere is having a good time. Religious people have a special talent for this kind of joy-deprived way of life. No doubt, Lent is a time to take a rigorous look in the mirror, which can often call us to explore growth opportunities revealed in self-examination. It can be rough going.
But the word Lent finds roots in the old English word for “Spring.” Lent is for sure a time in the wilderness, a time of challenge, maybe even deprivation. It’s a time to admit that we have fallen short. But that wilderness is also a time of formation. Scripture tells us that it led the children of Israel to a new land, a new world.
Lent leads us to new life, as well. Its connection with springtime means that it draws our attention to signs of new life all around us. An extra hour of sunlight in the evening. (Did you all get to church on time yesterday, or did you arrive for the dismissal?) Trees beginning to blossom (though yesterday in North Carolina we had snow). And of course, Spring training.
Which reminds me of a favorite quote about baseball, which has something to say not only about the joys and challenges of Lent, but about the spiritual journey. Hear this word from former baseball commissioner, Francis T. Vincent, Jr.:
Baseball teaches us how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball, and precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often – those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players. I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers error to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.
The Christian faith is good news because in its rigorous truth, it recognizes that we are not perfect. Denial of that truth doesn’t help anyone. The baptismal covenant speaks of the opportunity to return, whenever we sin, not if ever. St. Paul reminds us that we have all fallen short of the glory of God, but also reminds us that we can never be separated from God’s love. What part of never do we not understand?
The gospel invites us to rely not on our ability to get it right all the time (to bat 1000. Who can do that?) Rather, it invites us to rely on grace and mercy, and to show our dependence on grace and mercy by showing grace and mercy to others.
It’s a process, a journey for sure. A wise parishioner described the process this way: Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from poor judgment.
As disciples, we are learners, on a journey or continuum calling us to be more and more like Christ. How will you reflect on that journey this Monday morning? Maybe you can use the prayer for young persons (below). Note how that prayer speaks of the gift of failure. And as you do, as you observe this Holy Lent, also note that Spring is in the air.
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