That Loving Embrace
I’ve gotten in the habit of reading at significant moments of the church year the book Eternal Seasons: A Spiritual Journey Through the Church’s Year, a collection of writings from Henri Nouwen associated with the different times of the church year.
As always, Nouwen’s writings have the uncanny ability to focus my scattered thoughts and emotions and say exactly what I want to say about Lent:
I am certainly not ready for Lent yet. Christmas seems just behind us, and Lent seems an unwelcome guest. I could have used a few more weeks to get ready for this season of repentance, prayer, and preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus…
Jesus stressed the hidden life. Whether we give alms, pray, or fast, we are able to do it in a hidden way, not to be praised by people but to enter into closer communion with God. Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us, without really finding what we desire. Only God can give us what we want. So we must be reconciled with God, as Paul says, and let that reconciliation be the basis of our relationship with others. Lent is a time of refocusing, of re-entering the place of truth, of reclaiming our true identity.
Two things most striking to me about this passage from Sabbatical Journey.
1) He admits he’s not ready for Lent. I love this honesty! It gives me the freedom to admit that I’m not ready for it, either. For all my efforts to slow down, rest, and develop a rhythm of life that creates space for the contemplative life I am pursuing, I find myself continually distracted by unnecessary things, preoccupied by the demands of the moment, and anxious about things that don’t really matter. It’s nice to know Lent can sneak up on even the best of us.
2) He defines Lent as the time for returning to God and reclaiming our true identity. The image that comes to mind is God with arms outstretched and a huge smile, eagerly awaiting my return to that loving embrace. I sense that God is excited about this time of year when we take time out of our day to call our wandering attention to the presence of God around us and within us, still knocking, patiently waiting for us to open the door.
It is only when we are safely in this loving embrace, flinging the door wide open and saying, “come on in,” that we are able to experience ourselves both as fully known and fully knowable. We are finally able to recognize ourselves as the beloved children of God, welcomed into the family as we all prepare together for the coming of Easter.
So maybe you’re not feeling ready for this season either. Maybe you’ve been distracted and rushed and overwhelmed. Well then, you’re not alone! You’ve got 36 more days to reconcile yourself to God and prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus. You’ve got 36 more days to remember who you are, whose you are, and return to the loving embrace of the One who has been waiting for you all along.