First, a little history. For nearly 2,000 years, Christians throughout the whole world have observed a season called Lent – a (generally) 40-day period of time leading up to Easter. It begins, for western Christians, at least, on Ash Wednesday – exactly 46 days before Easter (40 days, not counting the six Sundays in between). It is typically practiced through special prayers, serving the poor, and fasting.
Symbolically, the season commences with the telling of the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. As it goes, after being baptized by his cousin, John, the Spirit of God leads Jesus out in the the desert wilderness of Judea (think modern-day Israel-Palestine-West Bank-Jordan desert “wilderness”). Here, Jesus fasts for 40 days in preparation for beginning his public ministry of healing people, caring for the poor and the outsiders, casting out demons – basically, bringing the prophetic “kingdom of God.”
But it is also here that Jesus is tempted by the Devil. These temptations take the form of worldly, political power, or the “easy way out,” or fancy, gratuitous miracles – spiritual eye candy, if you will. He resists and succeeds, relying on the promises of God that the humble and honest and faithful will be blessed – that that is where we will find true and vital existential satisfaction, ultimately.
The season of Lent is, in a sense, our following Jesus out into that desert. We prepare for Resurrection – a spiritual life to the full – by confronting our own demons, recognizing our frailty, sinfulness, and ultimate insufficiency to ourselves and to each other.
Over the next few week, I’ll be trying to post here somewhat regularly, with some thoughts and work (some my own, some from others) that get to the heart of that this season means and why it is valuable and formative to us as human beings.
Today I’ll leave you with a piece I wrote back in 2010:
A cigarette in my left hand
and a rosary in my right, I hit
the bottle for the last time
that Wednesday in February.
But here I am, after a week,
with my finger in an ashtray,
making the sign of the Cross on my forehead,
now for the third time, a hundred
on my lips, “Father forgive me, for I know
not what I do,” though I know
exactly what I’m doing. At the altar
to my unknown God, spirits
warm the throat only for so long—
I’ll take mine on the rocks
of the Skull, like Peter and his buddies
drinking, the night before
they watch their best friend die,
and all run away.