Another Ash Wednesday. Another Lent. Another season in the liturgical year to contemplate “what does it all mean” and “how do I live like it means anything at all?” No matter what Jesus’s followers thought he was all about—and the Gospels record their opinions as all over the map—the events of that fateful Passover had to have taken them by surprise. Whatever their expectations for the Jesus movement, his execution for criminal sedition was a big game-changer. Who could have foreseen such an event? (Arguably Jesus, but if so, he didn’t seem to go about making it very clear to even his closest followers.) And having seen their leader die ignominiously, what were they to make of it? In order to go on with their own lives, how were they to integrate his death into their own personal histories as a meaningful event?
Eventually, the various atonement doctrines, revisionist messianic prophecies, and the deification of Jesus by the increasingly political church provided catechistic answers to these hard questions. Ultimately, though, we each have to answer that question of meaning for ourselves just as the original followers grappled with it in the first century. Each of us must find our own meaning in life regardless of what answers are served up to us by church or culture.
Lent is a six-week period designed to reflect on what meaning we will give our lives. Two years ago, I began The Chronicles as a Lenten exercise, expecting 40-Days-to-a-Renewed-You. What I got was a continuing odyssey in spiritual death and resurrection. I thought that February of 2010 that I was nearly recovered from my then two-and-a-half year struggle with dysautonomia/adrenal dysfunction. Little did I know I was only beginning a whole new adventure in chronic disease and spiritual health! Like the first disciples, who could have foreseen how often in the last two years I would beg that this cup should pass from me, how many times I cried out from the depths of my soul for the God who had forsaken me, how close I would come to sighing simply, “it is finished.”
This sojourn in my personal Abyss has been more malevolent than I ever expected, the skeletons in my closet became demons that nearly destroyed my soul. Not for lack of willingness on my part did they fail; more times than I can count, I pleaded just to die and to let the inner struggle cease. But God kept waking me up to one more dawn; weep though I did at yet another day of hauling my weary, aching, broken self out of bed. Grace is a terrible thing.
Lent has come around again. Why am I still here? What is my purpose in continuing to breathe, to think, to move? In the last few weeks I have been slowly resurrecting from the ashes of my old dead self, why do I live? Grace transforms, whether we will or no. What has grace wrought? Like those devastated survivors of that crucial crucifixion, I look around me and begin to pick up the pieces of myself that I find and discover that they fit together differently that before. I am not the same person who went into this grave, who is this new person Grace has borne?
Jesus’s followers began their fateful journey, leaving every part of the lives they knew in Galilee, traveling to another country for a religious celebration, only to find that everything on which they had staked they hopes and dreams was staked instead to a cross as a common criminal. Their lives, their plans, lay destroyed at the foot of the cross that scattered them to the winds. Grace transformed those shattered people into a force that changed (for good as well as evil) the course of history. What will Grace make of me?
Lent. Six weeks to nurture the new healing, the tender green spirit that has sprung new roots into the Ground of my Being. Forty days to reach for the light, to burrow into the ground. Who will emerge from the seed of the resurrection?