A Season of Bright Joy: An Invitation

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.

5 thoughts on “A Season of Bright Joy: An Invitation

  1. I very much enjoyed this post Lindsey. Not just for your honesty, but about what you said about Lent. I am starting a blog myself and actually my first post was about Ash Wednesday (today…or well yesterday since I'm writing this at 2:00am) because I got such a blessing from it. My husband and I went to an Ash Wednesday funeral service at 11:00am so I went to my classes and met with a professor with the cross on my forehead. Going to a public school, I figured people might not know what it was, but I was very joyfully surprised to find others commenting that they were going “to get their ashes” later that day. It sparked a conversation about what each person was going to give up (and I found it interesting a popular one this year is giving up technology…). I got a great blessing out of wearing it today and it reminded me of the Jews when they wore the star of David. Ash Wednesday is the one day that Christians get the chance to wear the symbol stating to whom we belong. We should try to SHOW that each day in our actions. I will be praying for you Lindsey and that you can explore the celebratory Christian life.

  2. I don't do Lent and I'm surprised that so many Protestants today are “getting into” it. A few years ago Michael Stevens came up and said, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I was non-plussed. I told him “Nothing, I don't do Lent,” and I don't. I think the whole concept of treating one's body harshly is wrong and misguided. I think the idea of making yourself suffer so we can somehow “share” in the suffering of Christ is off-base–I don't think Christ ever asked or expected us to do this.

    Now Lent is usually cloaked in terms like you used, Lindsey: joyous sorrow, suffering that liberates, etc. Really, there is nothing joyous about suffering and nothing liberating about it. All of that, IMO, is theological double-talk. In fact, one of the things God will eventually do is get rid of suffering entirely. So I think the Protestant idea of Easter as a time of celebration of Christ's triumph is a much better way to mark the season than making yourself hurt. Jesus, Paul said, “endured the cross.”

    A guy at my church who is in charge of a ministry recently wrote and urged those of us in that area of ministry to do something for Lent and said he was convinced The Cross is the center of the Christian life (hence we should derpive ourselves to share in the suffering of Christ). I liked to think the Resurrection is. The ascetic ideas that caught the imagination of the early church are still with us today, and this is unfortunate.

  3. The song below is an old one, but it beautifully captures a mood similar to the one you describe. Instead of focusing on ourselves (which can be a very depressing), it shifts the focus heavenward to the very giver of life – who gives us life again:

    1. Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,
    God of glory, Lord of love;
    hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
    opening to the sun above.
    Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
    drive the dark of doubt away.
    Giver of immortal gladness,
    fill us with the light of day!

    2. All thy works with joy surround thee,
    earth and heaven reflect thy rays,
    stars and angels sing around thee,
    center of unbroken praise.
    Field and forest, vale and mountain,
    flowery meadow, flashing sea,
    chanting bird and flowing fountain,
    call us to rejoice in thee.

    3. Thou art giving and forgiving,
    ever blessing, ever blest,
    well-spring of the joy of living,
    ocean depth of happy rest!
    Thou our Father, Christ our brother,
    all who live in love are thine;
    teach us how to love each other,
    lift us to the joy divine.

    4. Mortals, join the mighty chorus
    which the morning stars began;
    love divine is reigning o'er us,
    binding all within its span.
    Ever singing, march we onward,
    victors in the midst of strife;
    joyful music leads us sunward,
    in the triumph song of life.

  4. first of all i think your 'lenten task,' if you will, is absolutely admirable and i hope people take it up with you.

    i think you've set up a great picture here. the idea of grief as transformation is perfect. i always feel like those who reject lent as an outdated high church tradition (because all tradition is bad) are really missing out. last year was the first time i really observed lent, and this year is the first time i've ever participated in ash weds and the imposition of ashes. last year's lent season was absolutely transformational for me. having grown up in the church, it was the first time i ever spiritually connected with easter; the reason being that i took the time and the effort to really understand what it's all about and take the FULL journey which i think lent really helps you take; from penitence, to anticipation, to intense grief, to elation.

  5. I had not ever given lent a second thought except to see others with ash marks on their foreheads. Thanks Lindsey for the insight and challenge to demonstrate to others the joy that we find in Christ. I like that idea better than wearing the ash or any kind of suffering. May God continue to richly bless your blog.

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