Lent, the joyful freedom of restraint and of making way
As we heard from Dr Bruce Hulme last week, the season of Lent is traditionally signalled by the ritual of Ash Wednesday. The liturgy (form of worship) for Ash Wednesday includes the poignant phrase: ‘Almighty God, you who have created us out of the dust of the earth: grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality … “(said by the minister) Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.
With these words we are ‘re-ligioed’ (re-joined) to a blessed truth: Our life is both a miracle and a mystery. We are intimately and mystically connected through the Spirit of God to our home, this earth, and are part of its cycle of birth, life, death, and resurrection. There is a time for us to occupy space, to fill the space, and a time to retreat from the space and make way for others and for the larger cycle of life. We think of Jesus the human being, who as a human was filled with longings, connections, loves and hopes for his life here on earth. Who, yet, discerned the times to fill the space (think triumphal entry to Jerusalem) and the time to retreat from it (think broken man on a lonely hill). The death of Jesus made way. For forgiveness, for healing, for the resurrection and a hope and love stronger than death, more visceral than hell.
At a certain time, each of us will face our own mortality, not only in ritual but in the actuality of our time and season in this life drawing its final curtain. This is the human cup of suffering that Jesus took willingly, for love, for his passion for us. He drank the cup, drained its poison, went before us to open the curtain through which we all will pass into a promise of a larger and more glorious experience of life made possible by his way making.
During lent we celebrate and participate in the way-making Spirit of Christ by practising way-making and restraint. We tap into the flow of the Church universal and historic, ride the slipstream of the saints past and present. We make way for each other. It might be as simple as holding a door, giving up a chair, making a coffee, assembling a flat-pack chair, restraining an emotional retort or bitter criticism, giving away time or money or both to make life a little larger for someone else or for something else. It might mean making space to listen to another’s concerns and interests instead of filling the space with our own. It might mean dialling down our brand and assisting someone else to dial up theirs.
Lent, in these ways and many others invites us into the freedom to restrain our expansion and discover a quality of life known only to those who give life away. We need a break from everything, all the time. From the 24/7 ego cycle. Thank goodness for the fast of lent and the multitude of ways we can imagine its incarnation in our own journey from here through to Good Friday and on to the glory of Resurrection Sunday.
Phil Daughtry is a senior manager at Tabor and he teaches in the field of contemporary spirituality. He has a reputation amongst his staff as a caring and empowering leader. His students speak of his gentleness, clarity of communication and capacity to teach critical and reflective thinking skills. Phil is active in research and participates in international conversations about the place of spirituality in life, work and society.