Reflections on Lent

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
-Mary Oliver

As the season of Epiphany and celebration has come to a close, churches are now entering into the solemn season of Lent. This 40-day period leading up to Easter is traditionally a time where christians fast or give up certain luxuries as a form of penitence. Growing up in the church, I understood Lent as a time to reflect on my own inner darkness. For me it has always been a season associated with guilt, shame, sin, and humankind’s general “depravity.”

I was struck by my own deeply dark associations with Lent the other week at my church as we gathered around the table for the Eucharist. The bread and wine were passed around the circle from one person to the next, eventually coming full circle back to the priest. Looking around the room, she paused for a moment and then said, “Let us take a moment to reflect….” Before she even finished her sentence, my mind immediately knew where she was going—humankind’s sin. I bowed my head to take a moment and reflect on my own inner darkness. But as she finished her sentence, I was caught off guard: “Let us take a moment to reflect on God’s deep love for us,” she said.

The season of Lent does not have to be driven by sin, guilt, and self-hatred. Instead, it can be framed by God’s deep love for us. Lent can be a time to purge ourselves of the hatred, judgement, and condemnation that distorts our view of the self and construes our view of others.

Rather than orienting Lent around our judgement and “depravity,” may we view it as an opportunity to empty ourselves, creating the space to give and receive Love. As we move away from a spirit of condemnation (which so often threatens to slide over into self-hatred), may we focus on the mysterious and moving Love that Easter embodies. As we meditate on this Love, may it bring us to turn our eyes outward, open us up to the suffering of those around us, and call us into action as we come alongside in love the wounded in this world.

image-2Sarah Stell is a 2015-16 Belle Harris Bennett Fellow. She graduated from Belmont University in Nashville in May 2015 with a major in Social Work. During her college career she studied abroad in the Middle East, served as an orphanage caretaker in Uganda, worked with women involved in the commercial sex industry, and was a social work intern at End Slavery Tennessee. She feels a calling to create space for the voices of the oppressed, engaging churches on issues regarding race, sexuality, power, and oppression.