“It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever flowing rivers. The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.”
For the first time in a long time, I’m participating in Lent. Really participating. Not like that one time in high school when I gave up sweets because one of my friends thought it would be fun to do it together. Or last year, when I attended Maundy Thursday but missed every other Lenten service, including its pinnacle: Easter. Or all the other years when I halfheartedly thought about giving something up but in the end knew I just wasn’t into it. No, this year, I’m really pressing into the images and meanings of Lent, and it has already been sweet beyond imagine.
I borrowed this lovely book from the library, which couples a reading from Scripture with an exegesis, a prayer, and a complementary work of art. I’ve refrained from checking any social media (except for Facebook messages; such is the difficulty of disconnecting in the Reign of the Internet). And I’ve begun to consider the image of life in a desert and the possibility that the god whom I’ve lately felt distant from, whom I’ve recently felt embarrassed to talk about, is there; I’m beginning to look for manna actualizing itself in my small sphere of existence.
This last bit is what I’m loving most about the Lenten season. Lent is a time when we’re allowed to pause and say, you know, sometimes this life feels quite barren. Sometimes, I’m tired or lonely or mournful or anxious or fill-in-the-blank-with-whatever’s-hounding-you-today. It’s a time when we don’t have to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, but instead, can recognize that sometimes, this life is kind of hard. Maybe it’s really hard, depending on your situation. And then, we can remember that the springs and the dry beds, the sun and the moon, the summer and the winter, in every season, lush or barren, there is the hand of God.
When I lived in Southern California, it was easy for me to see God everywhere. Not only was the sunset over the Pacific Ocean sublime every evening, literally declaring the glory of God, so was the purple sunlight on the mountains, the palm trees in the breeze, the painted tiles ornately decorating city buildings downtown. One of my dearest friends and I often talk about how the aesthetics of a place affects our mood, and in that lovely place, how could I not feel close to the beautiful one himself, the form of the form, Jesus, son of God?
But I live in Dallas now, and this city is a different beast. It is angry highways cutting through downtown, bill boards ten feet tall, sprawling suburbs, construction zones, a flat horizon for miles. Growing up, I used to want to live in a big city – I even talked about living in Dallas one day. Now, Dallas is my very own desert, a desert I’m always trying to escape by planning trips to the West Coast, the East Coast, the Midwest, and basically anywhere else I can afford. I need God more than anything in this place, and yet everywhere my eyes fall I feel as if he’s forsaken me.
Which is why I’m loving this Lenten season so much. I didn’t expect to love it, but I do. I love it because in Lent we acknowledge our desert-ness, and then we look for God in the midst of it. We acknowledge the ways we’ve fallen short. We acknowledge the ways our lives our broken. We acknowledge the ways we feel lost, tired, anxious, depressed, angry, unsatisfied, anxious for no reason, anxious for a lot of obvious reasons, bitter, envious, prideful, crushed. We acknowledge that we’re buried by sin and circumstance, and then we reach out of that pit of trash to find God there, ready to grab our hand. He pulls us up, wipes us off, and gives us a cracker of manna.
For me, that manna is the answered prayer for provision. It’s the completion of a writing project I’ve held in my heart for so long. It’s a community of new friends. It’s the continual deepening of old friendships and familial ties. It’s reading in coffee shops and walking the dog. It’s signing up for a library card and devouring short story after short story.
These are mercies from a loving God. This is manna in the desert. This is the Lenten season.
A friend recently introduced me to the music of Audrey Assad. I’ve been wrapping myself in her words all day, and I think discovering her music may be another Lenten mercy. Perhaps you already know about her; I am often late to discovering musicians. Even so, here is one of her songs I’ve particularly enjoyed: