Lent: Learning to See In the Dark

Lent: Learning to See In the Dark February 12, 2013

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hCCS2AIYy8I cannot think of Lent w/out thinking of this scene from Apollo 13. Our culture can sell us a million different ways to keep the lights on. It takes a practice like Lent to teach us how to switch them off so that we can learn to see in the dark – even if it is the only way home.

Lent is officially the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday excepting Sundays. It is meant to be a season in which Christians fast from something as a means of preparation for the celebration of Easter. Lenten fasts — giving up candy, coffee, soda, television, or meat on Fridays — are meant to help us see things in a new light. When we fast we voluntarily short out the cockpit lights in our daily routines, hoping that in the self-induced darkness we might actually be able to see our way forward a little better. And if ever a people needed to turn out the lights and sit in the darkness for awhile, it is the typical American Evangelical Christian.

Don’t get me wrong — these are my people — but we Evangelicals have a few issues not the least of which is a pernicious condition called satiation. Satiation is the absolute satisfaction of every human need to the point of excess. If you don’t understand the term, grab a bag of Snickers bite-sized candies and start eating. About the time you polish off the bag — you’ll have an acute understanding of the term satiation. Now imagine that sensation drawn across every aspect of life. Every opportunity, every advantage is given to us. Yet, instead of leveraging that toward the common good, we steer it toward a flat screen TV — not the 32 inch, but the 50 inch; not the plasma but the LCD; not the HD alone but the one with 3D capability — satiation.

Prolonged satiation does interesting things to the person. It has effectively transformed many Evangelicals into what I call the “serial-eventist.” These are people whose lives have become one long contiguous pursuit of the ultimate experience in satiation. It can be anything: a small group meeting, a friendship, a political election, a book club, a new purchase, or a television show. We serially flit from one event to another, searching for the next high which will bring meaning to our lives — a concert, a conference, a church service where we can be “fed.” The phenomenon of the serial-eventist occurs often among Evangelical Christians because for many, their faith has been defined as an event.

When “becoming a Christian” is defined as an event and not a new way of being human, we can easily lose our ability to allow the gospel to make moral claims upon our lives. To be a Christian, however, is to take up our cross and follow after Jesus. We may or may not have a specific event to point to, but we must certainly find ourselves pursuing God’s kingdom. In A Peaceable Kingdom, Stanley Hauerwas describes salvation as a process whereby, “We acquire a character befitting one who has heard God’s call … an intense personal experience may be important for many, but such experiences cannot in themselves be substitutes for learning to find the significance of our lives only in God’s ongoing journey with creation.”

The sad result of satiation is that we lose any sense of mystery and wonder. Satiation dulls the imagination and healthy spirituality loses out to the pursuit of the ultimate experience. In our culture satiation is much easier to achieve than character. Lent can be the antidote. The Lenten pilgrim can be unplugged from the Matrix of satiation, and they can actually see the way forward while everyone else is flying in circles over the Sea of Japan. Lent is our way of killing the lights that hide the way home.

Annie Dillard once wrote “God asks nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things.” She was talking about disciplines such as Lent and she was right. “You do not have to do these things,” she wrote, “unless you want to know God. They work on you not on him … you do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.” Come on Evangelicals — give something up for Lent! Make it something tough. Challenge yourself a little bit. For forty days, give up your satiation, turn out the lights, sit in the darkness, gaze up at the night sky, and let the North Star lead the way home.

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  • I had a conversation with a Jewish acquaintance once. He was relatively liberal in most issues of faith and life, but quite traditional in diet, keeping kosher with all the various rules and traditions. I asked him why it was so important to him. He replied, “A hamburger is wonderful. I love hamburgers. What’s better than a hamburger? A cheeseburger. What’s better than a cheeseburger? A bacon cheeseburger. God’s plan for our food helps keep us from being consumed with ourselves. It helps us appreciate the value, the goodness of what we have, without worrying about what’s better.”

  • scott stone

    While I’m in complete agreement with your position, I’d like to expand it a bit more.
    “And if ever a people needed to turn out the lights and sit in the darkness for awhile, it is the typical American Evangelical Christian.” How true but I think this is more of an overall American issue than anything else. Our materialistic approach to daily life is the problem. As consumers (and that’s what drives our economy and how we are referred to), we are consuming ourselves. Just look at the financial mess our country is in. Yes, predatory lenders were part of the problem but at the same time it was the typical American who wanted a bigger house, bigger TV, and a third car. We stripped all value out of our houses so we could finance our addiction.
    Then there is the federal government. $1T deficits every year for the last 4, and expected to be about a trillion again this year. Independent of our faiths, we all could benefit from the traditions of Lent.