For over a billion people on the planet, this week begins a six week period the Christian community calls Lent. It comes from the Latin word lente, to slow down or slowly. It connects with the Buddhist tradition of slowing the mind’s activity so one can become aware of the interior chatter and disruptions to embrace, transcend, and include them.
It also connects humanity with the coming of spring which invites us to slow down our activity and take stock of our inner and outer lives in relation to one another, the whole created order, and the spiritual dimensions of Life. It asks us to fast from the normal food we eat like distractions, busyness, entertainment, judgements, and anxiety.
‘Lent invites us to stop eating whatever protects us from having to face the desert that’s inside us. It invites us to feel our smallness, to feel our vulnerability, to feel our fears, and open ourselves to the chaos of the desert.’ It invites us into a relationship with all the parts of ourselves that need love, care, nurturance, and transformation.
Lent is an invitation to slowly and consciously awaken to all the inner parts that keep us from our abundant joyous selves. In every culture, there are ancient stories and myths that teach the necessity for everyone, at various times, to sit in the ashes. In the story of Cinderella, a name that literally means the little girl, puella in Latin, who sits in the ashes (cinders); the experience of a transformative inner reality is expressed.
The moral of the story is clearly metaphorical: Before you get to be beautiful, before you get to marry the prince or princess, before you get to go to the great feast, you must first spend some lonely time in the ashes, humbled, smudged, tending to duty, unglamorous, waiting. One can never become the servant leader or awakened sovereign without it. It’s part of the hero’s journey.
Do you ever wonder about the paradox of fasting and feasting? Could they be two parts of the same whole? Is it possible that we are being invited into a common celebration in which all the parts of ourselves are affirmed? What if the only fasting necessary to embrace the feast of Life was from fear, judgement, condemnation, spite and division?
Could it be that we’ve replaced the positive joyful emphasis of the wedding banquet with the negative sobriety of religious purity codes? Is it possible we’ve displaced the emphasis of loving, forgiving, and transforming with judging, grudging, and conforming?
For the next six weeks try expanding your heart, replace your frowns with smiles, and nurture your alienated parts back to Life. Try holding all things lightly and loving yourself in new ways so you can love others. The invitation’s here. Be of good cheer.