Lenten Reflection: Let Lent Reorient

By Elissa Rodkey

My perspective on Lent has come a long way from my first encounter with Ash Wednesday—my traditional evangelical upbringing made me view the imposition of ashes (even in the safety of my evangelical school’s chapel service) with suspicion and more than a little revulsion. What was this heathen practice? ‘From dust you are and from dust you will return’ was biblical, I grudgingly admitted, but rather morbid. What was the point of all this embarrassing ritual? It wasn’t until my Anglican friend Christina brought me to an Easter vigil, a service that began in the hushed, darkened church and ended with the joyous ringing of bells and extravagant feasting, that I began to appreciate the purpose of Lent. This extended time of expectant waiting, of repentance, of seeing the church’s full glory veiled, made my heart more ready for Easter, more thankful for Christ’s sacrifice.

Since then I’ve looked forward to Lent, enjoying the chance for serious spiritual reflection and fasting as a means to reorient my own good but earthly desires. Over the years I’ve fasted from a variety of things: desserts, chocolate, meat, the news. Each time I’ve been surprised by how God has used my fasting to nourish my soul. The year I fasted from meat was a season in which I felt particularly exhausted and weak; I was certain I needed that protein to function. Yet God fed delicious vegetarian fare in ways that reminded me of the stories of a discouraged Elijah being miraculously fed by an angel, by ravens, by a starving widow. It reminded me of the reality of my complete dependence on God; it reminded me of his desire to give me good gifts. Although it’s certainly easy to for such fasting to turn legalistic, I find the physical sign of fasting helps me to do the hard spiritual work of repentance. I often don’t feel penitent, or not to the extent that I should, and Lent gives me an outward form to grab on to, a good standard towards which I can bend my devotional practice. By submitting God in the hushed waiting of Lent, I escape the tyranny of my own fickle emotions and the limits of my sadly impoverished spiritual imagination. And at the end of the shade of Lent awaits the brilliant glory of the resurrection, an occasion for overflowing joy and thankful alleluias, made all the more heartfelt by 40 days of waiting.

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