Holy Week holds a story about passionate love and sorrow, anguish and sacrifice, bewilderment and joy. It’s a story which flipped the world upside down, so why would we expect to be unmoved by it today? Stories are told to be heard and to change us, and the story of Good Friday and Easter changes us deeply when we listen.
But how do we listen? How do we hear this unsettling story and let God change us when there are so many other stories competing for our attention, so much noise pollution and clutter? I think one answer to that question can be found in the season of Lent.
The story goes that a young doctor had just opened office and felt really excited. His secretary told him a man was here to see him. The young doctor told the secretary to send the man in. Pretending to be a very busy doctor, he picked up the phone just as the man came in. “Yes, that’s right. The fee is $200. Yes, I’ll expect you ten past two. Alright. No later. I’m very busy you know.” He hung up and turned to the man waiting. “May I help you?” “No,” said the man, “I just came in to install the phone.”
At Lent we stop pretending that we’re too busy for God. Roughly translated Lent means “forty”. It’s the season leading up to Easter, based on Jesus’ forty days of prayer and preparation in the wilderness. At Lent we’re given the chance of turning our attention to God as we anticipate the story we’re going to hear at Holy Week.
But more than anticipation, Lent is about heart-work. Not hard work, but heart-work. We’re giving God the time and space to mend, restore, to speak. Lent is about facing what is true and unsettling about a life of faith. It’s about admitting our failures and struggles, and taking off our masks which are often “eating into our faces”[i]. Lent is about hearing and owning that when we are weak, God’s strength comes through. Like Jesus in the wilderness, at Lent we go into desolate spaces, spaces free from noise and distraction, spaces that evoke dependence on God.
During Lent I’ll share poems which draw on the tradition and scripture connected to the season.
[i] Mark Oakley, “Believing in Poetry”, chapter on W.H. Auden.