Lenten Reflection: The Ways in Which Lent Provokes My Imagination
March 28, 2012 § 3 Comments
The first God I ever knew was a famine God, and he was made all the more lovely for how very few got to have him. In my Fundamentalist Evangelical home, God loved us, jealously, almightily, and in a way so few people would ever experience. That was the only fact that gave life meaning, the truth at the bottom of everything.
Of course, I never really noticed the famine until there wasn’t enough for me: not enough space in the Church, not enough space in the “beautiful” part of God’s creation, not enough of God’s pleasure. I turned 18 and fell in love with a woman and, to my devastation, realized that’s pretty much how things would always be. Suddenly I was in the crowd for whom God’s love had never been big enough—a crowd whose size I’d never even imagined.
As I spent a panicked year reading and rereading the Bible, trying to find a way to read it literally and find God’s blessing on the way I knew how to love, I started to see myself at a crossroads. I could choose a famine of human love and know myself fully in God’s love, while so many were denied it. Or, I could rip my life out of the roots and say, “If you want to spend eternity without them, you’ll have to have eternity without me, too.”
In these past weeks, my first “official Lent,” I’ve been thinking of those 6 years after I relinquished church and Christianity as my first “true” Lent. In the final wretched months before I pulled away, I felt was sitting at God’s table and starving. Admittedly, the first year of chosen famine “outside” was agony. But as time passed, that famine became a lens through which to study myself and the world.
That very hunger started pulling me back to the table–to church–last Lent. I’d begun to see how I viewed everything in my life through the lens of the Bible, Christianity, and Protestant theology. Following that hunger through last Lent finally brought me St Luke’s on Pentecost of 2011.
Perhaps the most powerful thing St. Luke’s has given me is access to ideas and traditions to which I was already heir. The sacraments and liturgical year reference the stories and ideas around which my life is already built—something like turning lights on in lamps that have always been there. Lent, like so many other traditions, takes a part of the story that I know backwards and forwards and offers me the chance to live it.
I admit to feeling very uneasy with the season, and often threatened. I think that’s because Lent, in many ways, is about lack. When I forget the difference between lack and scarcity, I start to feel unsafe; I get wary. But Lent has helped me contemplate the role that lack plays in Christianity: Jesus becomes human and lacks omnipresence; the tomb lacks Jesus’ body, as we ourselves (beyond the Eucharist) do now. But I also stand witness to how scarcity is used as a weapon when Christians lack the expanse of imagination required to picture the multitude of ways of being part of God’s kingdom.
More than anything, I think of Jesus in the desert, consciously choosing “not enough.” I myself am forced to name the places in me that were created by the all-consuming Christianity I was raised with that no other kind of Christianity can fill. Like a phantom limb, the ache of those vacancies is so profound, it sometimes actually wakes me in the night. Those were the parts of me filled with absolute conviction of my own rightness, with hunger for a love in whose eyes only I mattered.
I hope those spaces always remain empty. They are the hard-won home of doubt. I cherish doubt as the space between my knowledge and Truth itself. The desert makes room for angels; doubt makes room for other people, for God.
– Elisabeth Watson