Walking past multiple women with ash stained foreheads today I thought of Anne Lamott describing the ashes of her best friend Pammy who died of cancer. How she had expected them to be soft like skin but instead they were gritty like crushed bone. How she had thought they would romantically drift away in the breeze but instead they clung to her and were impossible to let go of completely. Though the ashes on these women’s foreheads weren’t those of a loved one, it reminded me of the somber mood of lent.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church it’s called the Season of Bright Sadness. When I first learned this I thought it was beautiful to think of sadness as shining like the sun. To think of grief as a mode of transformation. But my participation in the season has never been very somber.
During my freshman year in undergrad, when I first participated, I gave up instant messaging. Well, officially I did. Really, I gave up some obsessive habits I’d developed pursuing my crush. My pursuit had become a distraction from God, my school work and myself. Though my neurotic behavior resumed after lent, I did do some meaningful reflection during that time. Anne Lamott, an 18th Century Catholic monk and the Gospel authors all convicted me deeply during those 40 days but I was not transformed.
The next year my roommates and I all decided to give up sweets together. We weren’t very successful. We only managed to fast until the sun went down. We like to joke that we celebrated Ramadan that year. Unsurprisingly, I gained about 25 pounds during that lent. This was also the year I seriously considered renouncing my faith. Not a good time for God and I, or my body.
The following two years I ignored the season entirely.
Today, after seeing so many ash marked foreheads, I thought about what it would mean for me to somberly participate this year. As I reflected, I realized that I feel like I’ve spent the last three years in a season of bright sadness. I’ve tasted the bitterness of sin’s ashes. The grittiness of life without God have clung to me.
This lent season, instead of fasting, I’ve decided to focus on feasting. Feasting not so much on food (though a dinner party may be necessary) but on life. Instead of dwelling on our depravity, I want to dwell on God’s goodness.
For the next 40 days, I want to explore what an intentionally celebratory Christian life looks like and I would like to invite you to join me.
As we seek to see and experience God’s goodness, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 11:24). I am especially open to suggestions.