Tuesday, March 31, 2020
The following reflection, written in February of 2011 has been adapted from our archives.
We are now in the midst of what may be the most counter-cultural of holiday seasons: Lent. In stark contrast to the crazed consumerism that accompanies Advent, or even the candy trappings of Easter, Lent offers little for the world to commercialize or capitalize upon. In a fast-paced culture, it bids us to slow down; against technology that promises the evisceration of limits; it reminds us of our own frailties and constraints; in contrast to our noisy sociability; it encourages silence and solitude, and in opposition to our tendency towards self-indulgence, it urges spiritual discipline.
It is, in many ways, a tough sell. We are arguably the most distracted and overloaded society in history. Studies show that even while time spent at work continues to increase, so does time spent watching TV, surfing the internet, calling and texting. Squeezed out is time spent socializing in person, reading, family time, and sleep (according to some studies, Americans average one hour less per night of sleep than they did a generation ago).
Our distraction comes at a price. We are working longer hours, but are more likely to be in debt. We call, text, and email more than ever, but are more likely to experience loneliness and broken relationships. We have access to oceans of information, but are losing the ability to focus. Left to our own devices, we are likely to wind up, in the words of one sociologist: “fat, addicted and broke, with a house full of junk and no time.”
As such, Lent offers us not only a reality check, but rest. It reminds us of our limits, in contrast to the infinite capacity of God. And it offers the hope of margin attained through the disciplines of reflection, humility, and solitude. As Henri Nouwen wrote, “in the spiritual life, the word discipline means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act.’ Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.”
Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, this Lenten season is darker and harder than most. But if this time painfully reveals the limits of our own efforts and agency, perhaps it can also enlarge our capacity to see the wonder of God’s work in the world around us. In the midst of our anxiousness, Lent offers the annual, embodied reminder that our frailty is met with His sufficiency, our isolation is pervaded by His presence, and that the ashes and dust of death will one day end with Easter resurrection.
The Trinity Forum
Recommended Reading and Resources
As we navigate these uncertain times together, we recommend the discussion and Readings below as both an encouragement and catalyst for reflection.
- A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War: Recovering Heroism, Friendship, and Faith for the Modern Age | An Evening Conversation with Senior Fellow Joe Loconte, 2014.
- The Confessions of St. Augustine | A Trinity Forum Reading introduced by James K.A. Smith.
- Wrestling with God | A Trinity Forum Reading by Simone Weil, introduced by Al McDonald.