2.19.2015

A Pessimistic Lenten Reflection (part 1): Living in Denial


In the Church calendar the season of Lent extends 40 days from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday, the day of Christ's resurrection. Lent is a season of drawing back and simplifying, of penitence and repentance, of learning to walk the way of Jesus, the road that leads to the cross, of learning to give up what we cannot keep in order to gain what we cannot lose.

People often "give something up for Lent", but really Lent is about getting rid of the things that detract and distract us from God. So the call goes much deeper than merely not doing some petty thing we know does not do us any lasting good anyway. Instead, the call is to consider what in our life causes us not to see and hear God. So we "give something up" not to punish ourselves—though in the short term it seems we may be doing that—but to take on a posture where can begin to draw near to God.

As a way of helping others get to that place, I now offer part 1 of a Pessimistic Lenten Reflection:

Living in Denial...
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I am convinced most of human existence consists of living in denial.

Denying...

  • the inevitability of our deaths
  • that we are small and insignificant, a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck...
  • that we are of unquantifiable value
  • that we really don't love God with all our being
  • that God exists
  • that we really only love ourselves and are entirely self-centered
  • that we utterly hate ourselves
  • that our sin doesn't matter
  • that we would sleep with anyone if given the chance
  • that we would eat whatever we wanted and as much as we wanted if given the chance
  • that we think our thoughts and views are the most important in the world
  • that nature is way more powerful than us and we are all but at its whim and can so easily kill us in its harsh coldness, hotness, wetness, and dryness
  • that bugs exist
  • that the way we live creates literal mountains of worthless waste, left to decompose for thousands of years. We pretend those mountains are not there, but they are there.
  • that we have no idea what do with our things when we are done with them: our shoes and carpets and TVs and clothes and computers and phones... (oh our phones!)
  • that the earth is primarily dirt and water and to be of the earth is to be dirty and wet
  • that wild animals exist
  • that every time we purchase something made of plastic, drive our cars, or buy fruit shipped from thousands of miles away we are slowly destroying our world
  • that millions upon millions of people are caught up in modern day slavery
  • that people are suffering all around us and need people's time, love, and open homes
  • that there are an abundance of people different than us in their looks, beliefs, and practices
  • that, lost in the details of the everyday, there is a bigger picture to everything
  • that the tragic mistakes of history have happened and the same things will happen again
  • that everything we do does not matter
  • that everything we do matters
  • that almost every action we ever commit stems from our undying self-centeredness.
  • that we are self-worshipers to the core.
All these denials are a form of sleeping; of willful blindness, for in saying we "deny" something the opposite is implied, that we can come to deny our denial, to truly look at and accept what we deny and so choose to live differently.

But this looking and accepting is the hardest step, for we are afraid, afraid of ceasing our denials.

How do we combat this state?
How do we awaken?
How do we face reality and how do we discern what reality really is?
First, we must keep asking questions and keep listening. I know this to be true.

But more than anything we must pray, either exactly how this prayer from the liturgy of the first Sunday in Lent instructs us, or something like it:


Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Amen.

We are often in denial that the world needs saving, but this is exactly what God intended by sending his Son Jesus to us. Saving us from all our denials.

So in this Lent let us learn to how to walk in the way of Jesus and let us learn how to be saved by Jesus. Let us live in denial no longer, but instead, as it says in the twelfth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews:

...since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

May we deny ourselves in order to truly find ourselves. May we instead fall asleep to the sin which clings so closely and come awake in the full knowledge of Christ...
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Read Part 2:
A Pessimistic Lenten Reflection Part 2 (Giving the Gift)
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Related Posts:
Free Music For Lent: Holy Mercy EP
Lenten Devotion (2007)
We Used to Wait—A Very Special Arcade Fire Advent Reflection (Part 1)
We Have a Problem With Authority—A Reflection on Christ the King Sunday
Reflections on the Death of Moses

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This long list of negative reflections saddens me: It's tone is to me judgmental and condescending to those unfortunate members of the Mystical Body (or not) who are seemingly inferior (by inference to the maker of the list. My hope and prayer is that the list-author will be blessed with more humilitas.

Chris Marchand said...

Anonymous, thank you for your comment, but I'm not sure if you understood what I tried to write about. Throughout the essay a second person "we" is implied. I include myself in everything in my long list.

I was attempting to describe all the things in life we pretend are there, things we wish would just go away, things that are just sad in and of themselves and things that are also sinful.

My hope is we would all come awake to these things so God can work a change in us and through us. I think this is what Lent is about.

Again, I mean to say "us", not "they". I need the change just as much as anybody.