The birds have begun to sing again.
Last year, when we entered lockdown, I would wake up early to open my window so that I could hear them. No matter what darkness surrounded humanity then and no matter how uncertain life was, the birds still sang every morning. Their notes hearkened to the piercing reality that some beauty cannot be marred by sin.
An echo of Eden carries on in their melody, reminding the human soul that this bitter earth is not our home and that we are made for blithe freedom and symphonic relationship. And as their subtle and delightful presence returns, I am reminded that spring is near.
The word, “Lent,” comes from the Middle English word for “springtime.” And yet, the beauty and simplicity of Spring is often far from our minds when we consider this sacred liturgical season. This is especially true this year. It was during Lent of last year that the world changed drastically and painfully. Great loss was experienced. Whether it was the loss of life, health, livelihood, mental health, community, or the Sacraments, we were forced to reckon with fallen nature far more palpably than any of us desired.
It makes me think of that heinous and heartrending moment when Adam and Eve experienced the aftertaste of the forbidden fruit, an experience that we have lived for our entire existence. They saw the darkness of the world separated from God and they saw their own nakedness. And rather than running to their infinitely good and merciful Father, they hid.
Many of us are still hiding after the pain we experienced last year. We are sons and daughters of Eve, after all. Just as our mother reached and grasped for control and dominance that did not belong to humanity, we are reaching and grasping, desperately searching for happiness, even momentary pleasure in this valley of tears. We have tried to mitigate the pain of our wounds through sin, indulgence, or an obsession with control. And rather than turn to the One whose stripes heal, we have put up walls to prevent being hurt again.
Lent can be a way to keep those walls up. Sure, we might stop eating Oreos for breakfast or resolve to gossip less, but don’t we often subconsciously use Lent as a way to take control and hide? If we can just get this vice under control, successfully fast from this long list of pleasures, AND get in one to two Holy Hours every day, at least we’ll know that we’re good Christians. At least we can have something we can control and take pride in for accomplishing.
I’m not saying for one second that a strict observance of Lent is a bad thing! By all means, we need to fast, increase our prayer, and strive in almsgiving. But I am saying that it is worthwhile to step back and examine why you approach Lent in the way that you do. Maybe that means you need to step up your game and give something up in addition to Cherry Coke, but not regular flavored Coke. Or maybe you need to find a way to ensure that you aren’t using Lent as a form of self-reliance, even if that involves stepping back on the fasts and prayers you are accustomed to at this time. When Jesus says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” have you considered that those words are spoken to you and that perhaps the person most in need of your mercy is yourself?
So often we associate Lent with a difficult trudge up Calvary, and that is a crucial aspect to the spiritual life of a Christian. But this year, I invite you to also associate this beautiful season with the springtime that it is named for. The Father delights in your efforts. He yearns for your purification and holiness. But more than the early mornings, cold showers, and difficult tithes, He wants the renewal of your heart. He wants the birth of your trust. He wants to heal that wound of sin that believes that God holds out on us and is disinterested.
He is anything but disinterested as He hangs on a tree, suffocating to death for you. That tree is the source of all springtime, the surest sign pointing to the reality that Winter cannot remain forever and that Satan has no power against the source of all life. What is keeping you locked in Winter behind closed bars? What part of your soul are you hiding from the Father rather than exposing to His marvelous, merciful light? Allow Christ the sower into your soul this Spring, this Lent, more intimately than ever before. Give Him permission to convict, to save, to heal, and to love you in the places you consider utterly irredeemable and unlovable. Then He will find you in the garden on Sunday morning. And as He calls your name, you will recognize Him and trust Him for the God and lover that He truly is.
(Title taken from the opening line of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, a work ultimately rooted in the common human experience and the need for repentance)