This is my fifth year observing lent. I didn’t grow up in a Christian church that practiced many of those ancient traditions and the only thing I knew about lent was what I had learned through that not-so-great movie 40 Day and 40 Nights. (Eemember the flower!) Over these past five years I have gathered and pieced together knowledge on the practice and observance of lent and I still feel I have just grazed the surface.
I have discovered lent is meant to be a season of radical honesty, where I get to step back from everyday life and open my eyes to the person I truly am. It allows space for the vulnerability that comes when life stills to a slow enough pace and I can see each moment paused. Where I recognize how small I am, how papery-frail life is, and how each breath is a gift. Vulnerability slips into this space to reveal the unknown limited number of heartbeats left within my body and that it’s going to be okay. Because within the honesty of lent I learn to let go, to trust the process, to strip away what has built up that keeps me from truly living.
I have found that to truly live life fully I must learn to admit I will die; that I am mortal. To whole-heartedly live with each breath being gratitude, I must accept death. Because it’s from death that comes life.
I just started a garden with my husband and I observed a few things. First, gardens start as a pile of crap. Literally: Manure and compost mixed together. Lent reminds me that out of crap grows sustainable life. The best soil used to grow the best plants comes a bit stinky. I expected the best soil would be the kind in the bag at Target, perfectly packaged and put together, and while it doesn’t smell as badly, this soil is often treated with pesticides. Intentionally observing lent reminds me that God isn’t looking for perfect people but humble hearts and out of a humble heart grows sustainable life. It might not be the prettiest process to watch, but the fruit of growth is magnificent.
Second, I was reminded that seeds cannot grow without first being buried in the ground. They have to take that season of time to be buried in the dark, cold soil for new life to take root and grow. Lent is a season to practice letting go, of venturing into those honest, dark places and allowing the light of Jesus Christ slowly pull me out. Lent reminds me of all the ways my good, busy life can often keep me isolated from God and apart from love. Being, metaphorically, buried as a seed in the ground keeps me intentionally seeking to let go, strip away, be vulnerable and remove whatever distracts from simplicity during this season.
This season gently declares how near God is, that God is closest to the brokenhearted and I am most aware of God’s presence when I am at the end of my rope. God is closest to those who lack, who need new life and fresh starts, who need resurrection. Maybe we’re all seeds, ready to be buried below the dark earth. We all need to be planted, but it’s a choice we all must make.
So may this season of Lent be one not of guilt or piety, but one where you recognize this life and breath as gift. May you discover perfection was never required, but honest vulnerability is. May you seek what it means to be buried, for new life to take root, to rise up and through your new life provide food for the hungry, comfort to the needy, hope for the hopeless.
Bethany Cseh is co-pastor of Catalyst Church in Arcata.