Every year I look forward to Lent. It's the kind of thing my personality seems suited for. Sit in the ashes. Think dark thoughts. Get serious about spiritual reflection.
As I read the opening lines to the Lent section of my favorite book for following the liturgical year, the words that struck me were "bright sadness." I have an easy time with the sadness part. But today I am challenged to think earlier, before Easter dawns, about the brightness that keeps us going in it. The bright hope that we have.
I took a self-portrait for a challenge on Instagram, only joining in because being the first day of Lent, a look in the mirror, far beyond the physical but not excluding it, seemed appropriate. What I see when I look at myself is so often far from beautiful. It discourages me-- the ugliness of my spirit, the ways I fail to love, my thoughts, my attitude. A good hair day will never make up for all the parts that are undone inside.
The journey of Lent, in it's essence a spiritual exercise, is both a journey to look inward at our humanity, and outward to ponder anew the mystery of God's embrace in his redemptive act on the cross and in the tomb. It is a pretty hopeful journey. A bright journey, even though it walks through sad places.
A quote of Tim Keller's that often comes to mind is, "The Gospel is that I am far worse than I imagine and simultaneously more loved and accepted by God than I ever dared hope for-- because of Jesus death for me."
"To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of self-righteousness, and fortifies us from any difficulty life can throw at us."