Lent is my favourite season on the Church calendar. It is a season where we pursue simplicity and contemplation. It’s the season where I feel, for once, the world is moving at a slow enough pace for me to catch up. I am happiest when life is simple – void of conflict, and I can just focus on a few important things; Lent opens up that possibility for me. I pare my life down to a few simple spiritual disciplines and enjoy the refuge before the fanfare of Easter.
This season of Lent finds me on a military base 21 km Southwest of Barrie Ontario away from my family, my friends, and my community at St. Pete’s. I will not be home before Easter and so, much of my Lenten and Easter practice will be done while I faithfully iron my uniform and polish my boots. In light of COVID-19 we have been confined to the base and all our gathering spaces have been closed. It seems that every few days we are restricted a little more and I find myself struggling in my Lenten practice of giving thanks and pausing for prayer.
Many of us have been caught off guard by the severity of this pandemic and find ourselves lost in a sea of panic and uncertainty. It’s hard to not be overwhelmed when our city, province and country have declared a state of emergency and we don’t have the health literacy to understand what it is we are facing. It’s anxiety-inducing when we are legitimately out of toilet paper and there is none to be found and it’s terrifying to think we might lose loved ones and be powerless in the face of a tiny, not-even-visible-to-the-naked-eye, virus. Also, we are, at our core, a rebellious people who enjoy our freedoms and don’t like to be bossed around. Which is why the irony that all of this is happening during Lent is not lost on me.
As much as Lent is about simplicity, it is also about sobriety. It is a 40 day “Come To Jesus Altar Call” in which we examine our hearts in light of a Saviour who bore our sins on the Cross. It is an understanding that we are dust and that all the things we thought were ours actually belong to the Almighty. Lent is an invitation to slow down and savour our mortality and to have the hard conversations about the state of our hearts, the order of our lives, and the progress of our faith with the One who really matters: Jesus. Ecclesiastes 7 says that the house of mourning is better than the house of feasting. If there’s one thing that doing Lent in the midst of this year and all its happenings have taught me, it is that we do not enter the house of mourning enough.
Much of my free time during this confinement period has been spent exploring World War One training trenches, reading plaques at war memorials and walking the labyrinth at the Chapel. These are all sobering reminders of our mortality and how, like grass, we wither and fade. Ecclesiastes 7 also tells us that God made the good days and the hard days. During these long early spring walks, I find myself asking God to expose to me the parts of my heart which are not willing to be reordered in this season of Lent by the days ahead. I find myself asking God to show me where I am rebellious to come under authority, where I am hesitant to change the way I treat my loved ones and my enemies, and where I am neglectful of the planet we have been asked to steward.
I also find myself praying for peace; peace amongst the mourning and the anxious, peace amongst our leaders and decision-makers, and peace in our country and our country’s neighbours as borders close and resources tighten. I close each prayer in the name of the Lord who made us, loves us, died for us and rose again so that we wouldn’t know life apart from Him. I come back from each walk knowing that these times are uncertain but that God has everything under control, and that is precisely why we shouldn’t fear the house of mourning.
As we are mandated to avoid crowds, wash our hands, restrict our travel, and do our best to stay at home, let’s not do the busy work of Marie Kondo-ing our closets and pantries. Let’s not get busy with the floorboards and dusting the hard to reach places (except for when I have to stand for inspection) without doing the slow and steady work of examining our hearts before the Lord. Let’s not get caught up in actively numbing the longing in our hearts to feel the saving grace of God. Let’s use this time, this forced quiet and solitude, to remind ourselves that we are dust but Jesus died for us anyway.
A great many of us currently reside in the house of mourning, mourning losses both personal and collective. So during this most sombre of Lenten seasons, let us remember that although we are ashes and dust, we are illuminated by the very breath of God. The promise of Lent is that Easter comes regardless. In a few weeks, whether in our homes on FaceTime or Zoom, or in one of our Church buildings, we will celebrate the Risen Lord. Jesus will conquer death whether we are in isolation or not. The things that are important will still remain regardless of where we sit on Easter morning. Whatever the outcome of these turbulent days, we have the promised peace of God and the hope of the Resurrection.
Want a little more St. Pete’s in your week? St. Pete’s just posted the first two episodes of our podcast Ordinary Matters. Check it out for more thoughts on how to love well during this time! Are you looking for daily disciplines for prayer and Scripture reading? Download the Daily Offices. Please join us for virtual church on Sunday.