Do not adjust your screen, yes, you read the title correctly – I’m giving up God for Lent. I know this may sound strange since I am a member of the clergy. Why on earth would someone who’s JOB is God give up God for Lent? It would be like watching a doctor ask the patient to be still so he can listen to the patient’s heart, and the doctor had given up the stethoscope for Lent. So why on earth would a minister give up God for Lent? Well the simple answer is, why not?
In my ministry work I have watched thousands struggle with an understanding of God. Here are a few of the many questions I hear over and over. Who should I believe? Who’s right? And if someone’s right, that means someone must be wrong – and what if I’m on the wrong “side?” Who or what exactly is God – a guy in a white robe with a big gold ‘G’ on the front handing out blessings? Or maybe God is that never-ending source, or principle, from which all life springs? Isn’t God the “allness of the suchness of the beingness?” And why believe in God anyway, what’s the point? What difference would it make if I didn’t believe? My life is a mess, where the hell is God in all that? What kind of God lets all these things happen? I pray all the time so why doesn’t God answer my prayers? I don’t really understand, but this must be God’s will for me, right? It’s all in divine order, isn’t it?
I’m exhausted just typing out those questions. Can you hear and feel the anxiety? This isn’t a criticism, I know those questions all too well. You can’t be in my line of work and NOT have traversed that rocky trail of existential angst. So why give up God for Lent? One reason is because of the insidious sense of lack pervasive in spiritual communities. We think that giant hole, the feeling of being lost, that sense of inadequacy, our general dissatisfaction with life, can be filled by seeking and potentially finding the divine. Maybe… maybe not.
So let me add a caveat here. This Lenten journey I am embarking on is not to convince anyone of anything. It is not to come to any particular conclusion, or see who’s right and who’s wrong. I am in NO WAY asking anyone to change their own beliefs, convictions or spiritual practices. This is MY journey of inquiry. I’m not even saying that those who embark on a journey of connecting with the divine, of seeking wholeness, of seeking God may not necessarily find it. I am simply choosing to go down a road of uncovering unexamined and unconscious assumptions around the thought that we NEED to be seeking something that I’m not always sure can be grasped. We believe if we find it, it will remove our sense of lack and we will know wholeness.
Essentially, my giving up God for Lent is about taking off my own blinders. Regardless of my own, or others, walk with faith, the underlying assumptive common thread in pretty much every faith tradition is that there is indeed a sacred fullness, a divine wholeness, a ground of being which lies underneath, behind and within all things. And what if this is our fundamental source of lack experience? Our never-ending seeking that we know something lies just out of our reach, and sometimes we catch a glimpse or have an experience of it, but mostly we continue to reach for what has slipped through our hands once again?
Since the beginning of time we humans have constructed mythologies to make sense of our life and our complex, ever-changing world. Faith is no different. Lent is a season of faith leading up to the crucifixion, which is a death. An event where what we believe in, what gives us meaning ultimately collapses. These days it is an existential death, a death of what no longer serves, but has brought meaning and comfort, even though I may have outgrown it.
So again, let me reiterate. This is my 40-day journey, it is not about throwing out the baby with the bathwater, rather it is a journey of potentially embracing Christianity in a radical way. One that celebrates life more fully, offers more joy and healing than a particular set of beliefs or practices or intellectual understanding. This is my journey of immersing myself more fully into the world.
Historically, Lent really has little to do with God in some ways. Lent is supposed to be a special time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter. It’s very much an internal walk with our human condition. Noticing the crosses we bear, and practicing intentional self-examination around the beliefs we hold sacred. It’s traditionally a time of penitence as demonstrated by self-denial.
The original intention, in part, was to sacrifice for the glory of God, to be closer to God, to be in God’s favor. I’m pretty sure I lost “favor” decades ago, which is OK because I never liked that God anyway, so at least God and I are on the same playing field – no favoring each other. And as for repenting? Yeah, not gonna happen in any form of self-flagellation. However, from the Hebrew Bible, repent has the meaning of “to return,” especially to return from exile… an image also associated with “way, path, and journey.” The roots of the Greek word for repent mean to “go beyond the mind that you have.”
So Lent is a time to embark upon a way that goes beyond the mind that you have. And what better way to do that then by giving up God for Lent. I have no idea what will emerge, I haven’t the slightest idea where this will take me, I can’t even tell you what, if any, practices I will will or won’t engage in. What I do know though, is that in this 40-day journey I will definitely be called to enter into a different way of existing within the world. And isn’t that the essence of Jesus’ teachings anyway? I’ll keep you posted about what’s happening for me as I embark upon a way that goes beyond the mind that I have. Good thing I haven’t given up coffee or chocolate… I may need a lot of both.