Wednesday, February 16, 2011
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 nothing 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, particularly for upper-income professionals, 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, email, and Skybe more than ever, but are more likely to complain of loneliness or 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, 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 holiday’s disciplines of reflection, humility, and solitude. As Henri Nouwen wrote, “in the spiriutal 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 happy than you hadn’t planned or counted on.”
Ultimately, this season helps remind us of the futility of our own strivings, and awken our capacity to see the wonder of God’s work in the world around us. If the discipline of silence can help us hear His voice more clearly, solitude may serve to heighten our awareness of his presence. It is a simple reminder that against all our busy-ness is the offer of his rest, that our failures are met by His sufficiency, and what began with ashes will end in Easter.