Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Rainy Days and Lent

Ash Wednesday – Year A
Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
Wednesday, February 6, 2008 (7:00 pm) – St. Alban’s Westwood

Sunday morning, I sat in the Common Room at Mount Calvary Monastery, in the hills above Santa Barbara. As I sat there, sipping my coffee and gazing out the window, I recalled that the day before, I was able to watch the sun rise over Santa Barbara, affording a glorious view of the town and the Pacific Ocean beyond. But on Sunday, there was no such view. It was foggy and cloudy, and rain was falling, obscuring the scenery I had enjoyed the day before. As I looked into the clouds and fog, I found myself thinking “yep, it’s looking a lot like Lent.”

Almost as soon as I had this thought, I was taken aback, wondering where it came from. I was puzzled. What does a rainy morning in Santa Barbara have to do with the impending onset of Lent? So, I sat there for a few minutes, pondering this, trying to understand the connection my subconscious mind had just made.

At first, I reasoned that the connection between rain and Lent was the gloominess that I was gazing into. In some ways, it seemed to make sense. I have always felt that Lent has sort of a gloomy feel to it. But not in a bad way, not in a depressing way. It’s just that Lent seems to be a little darker and more somber than the rest of the liturgical year, which, you have to admit, it is – particularly compared to the Christmas and Epiphany seasons that precede it, and the Easter season that follows it. And rain can be pretty gloomy, particularly for those of us used to Southern California sunshine.

But that’s not quite true, at least for me. I don’t find rain particularly bad or depressing. In fact, I kind of like the rain. I find a gloomy day of rain to be a refreshing change of pace from constant sunshine. One of the things I like about gloomy, rainy days is that they tend to put me in a more reflective mood. When I am unable to look out the window and see much beyond the windowpane, I find that my attention turns inward, on myself and what’s going on in my own life, in my own spirit. I suppose I feel the same way about the gloominess often associated with Lent. Maybe that’s the connection between rain and Lent. Lent is supposed to be a period of reflective preparation that takes us on a journey through the somberness of Holy Week to the joys of Easter.

While all of that made sense to me, somehow, it just didn’t quite resonate at the moment. Something was missing. There was some other connection that was being made in my subconscious. As I continued to gaze out the window and pondered what was going on in the recesses of my mind, I became less focused on the gloominess of the scene before me and more focused on the rain itself. I thought about the blessing that rain provides. Particularly here in Southern California, a land that is essentially reclaimed desert, rain is of prime importance to providing water – water that is needed to facilitate and sustain life. Rain is life-giving. That was it! That was the connection I was looking for. As I thought about the live-giving quality of rain, I made the connection. It occurred to me that Lent is also life-giving.

Now, we don’t usually think about Lent as being life-giving. After all, it is a pretty dark and murky season, as we have already established. Liturgically, we focus on Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem, where he will find himself bidding farewell to his disciples, brought before Pontius Pilate on trumped up charges, and condemned to death on a cross. On the whole, not exactly the most joyous of liturgical seasons. On a more individual level, it is also somewhat gloomy as it is a time when we turn our attention to our own sinfulness and seek repentance from God. Through prayer, penitence, almsgiving, and fasting, we prepare ourselves to travel with Jesus on his final earthly journey toward his Passion, and in the process, we prepare ourselves to be reconciled to God.

Through his description of his life and ministry, St. Paul tells us in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians what may be required of us as we travel this Lenten journey with Jesus. “As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” By suffering dishonor and ill repute. By being treated as imposters, as being treated as if unknown. By being poor and having nothing. This does not mean that we will experience any or all of these during our own Lenten journeys. But we might, to some degree or another. Maybe not physically, but metaphorically. As we engage in the work of penance that is typified in this Lenten season, we are prompted to go deep within ourselves, to reflect on our own spiritual states, on our relationships with others, on our relationships with the world, and on our relationships with God. If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, and do the hard work of examining what lies within, hidden in the dark corners of our souls, we will most likely experience periods of gloom and discomfort, and maybe even moments of despair, just as during a rainstorm that disrupts a beautiful Southern California day.

But just as a rainstorm does not last forever and comes to end with the parting of the clouds and the breaking in of beams of bright, warm sunlight, so too something beautiful comes of the hard work that Lent asks of us. Paul notes the benefits and fruits of this labor of love undertaken for our own sakes and the sake of our relationships with God and the world. These are “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.” If undertaken in sincerity and humility, we are recipients of honor and good repute. In the work of reconciliation with ourselves, with others, with God, and with the world, we are true and fully known, not only to God, but to others and to ourselves, as well. In so doing, we are made rich and possess everything that is needed for a deeper and more fruitful spiritual journey, and for richer and more fulfilling relationships with ourselves, with God, and with our fellow human beings.

All of this, the hard work of looking inward, and reaping the benefits to be had in such interior work, can only be achieved through reflection. Personally, I find that rainy weather temporarily veils the other things in my life that distract me from looking inward. So too with Lent. Without the distractions of the more festive seasons of the Christian year, I am likewise inclined to become more reflective. And if I can stick with it, and am able to bear the momentary pain of looking into my life and my soul, I eventually find the joy and rewards Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians. And what makes the reflective time of Lent more bearable is the knowledge, the promise, that no matter what I may find when I look inside, I will also find God waiting there, ready to help me carry the burdens of my sins. I will find God there, waiting to transform the dark into light, the hate into love, the pain into joy. I will find God waiting for me to be reconciled to Him, and ready to help me be reconciled to the rest of His creation.

Just as a gloomy day of rain provides life-giving water to maintain and nourish our lives, so too the 40-day journey of Lent we are embarking on today is life-giving. This journey provides us with the opportunity to get in touch with our own true selves, warts and all. Through the course of that journey, what we find is transformed as we approach Jerusalem, as we approach the cross. We find that the self we uncover during our Lenten journey has been reconciled to ourselves and to God, and that it has been transformed into the true self that God is calling us to be. And at the end of the journey, just as at the end of rainstorm, the sun will shine upon us, revealing the joy of the Son’s resurrection, and bringing us to new life in him.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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