Some years I am enthusiastic and hopeful as we begin Lent. Those are the years that I am glad for several weeks of reflection and repentance, a time for me to set aside self-centered priorities and turn back to God. Turns out, this is not one of those years.
We’ve been social distancing and isolating for a full 11 months with no end in sight. Though email and Zoom are useful substitutes for in-person classes and meetings, they fall short of helping us fully create community and connections with the people in our lives. Since travel to see family and friends is risky for them and for us, many of us are not making trips or visits that are usually a regular part of our lives and relationships. There is ongoing uncertainty about vaccine availability, virus mutations, and winter weather. Everyone I know is dealing with some degree of grief from loss of some kind. The weeks ahead will bring more changes and challenges that we’ll need to learn to accommodate. All this has led to many of us feeling worn and a bit fragile. It may seem like just too much to take on typical Lenten practices like giving up coffee or chocolate, extra devotional reading, or additional volunteer work.
This hasn’t been a typical year, and I think this is the right time for a not-entirely typical Lent.
Every year, Lent reminds us that we are humans and God loves us. Often, we benefit from spending time realizing again that we are not God in the weeks leading up to Easter. This year, most of us are more fully aware of our limitations and our humanness; maybe more than ever before. We are already weary and overwhelmed. I think this is the year to approach Lent as a time for self-care. To turn back to God and rest into God’s embrace and unconditional love precisely when we need it so much. To seek both comfort and support from God who holds us fast when we are exhausted and losing hope (as well as when we are full of pride and arrogance).
There was a phrase from this week’s gospel reading that started me thinking this direction. This text from Mark’s first chapter is a brief account of the start of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is baptized and hears a voice from heaven. The spirit drives him out into the wilderness, and after John’s death, Jesus returns and begins to proclaim the good news. While he is in the wilderness (a place of challenge, danger, and testing, but also a place to encounter God), we learn that Jesus “was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” In a place with wild animals who could easily injure or kill him, heavenly beings cared for Jesus’ needs. We are in a wilderness of sorts this year and we can all certainly benefit from noticing the heavenly care we receive.
Lent is a time to draw closer to God. The very God who creates us and sustains us and loves us beyond all reason. Lent in a time of pandemic might mean that instead of giving up chocolate for 40 days, we make sure each day to eat something we truly enjoy and thank God for all that is delicious and life-sustaining. Lent in a time of pandemic might mean that daily we make time to listen to music we love or a funny podcast, then offer a word of thanks to God for the gift of music and laughter. Lent in the time of pandemic might mean drinking more water and taking a nap when we are tired, remembering that our bodies are God’s beautiful creation that need our care. Lent in the time of pandemic might mean that we try to notice the countless ways God is present in our lives each day, tending us and caring for us.
As these days of Lent and pandemic continue to unfold, my prayers are with you.
May you be surrounded by the support and care you need.
May you be filled with strength in the face of challenges and sorrow.
May you notice and rejoice in the blessings (large and small) that fill your life.
May you find ways to move closer to God who is ever beside you.