Scattered, simple reflections at the just-past-mid-point of Orthodox Lent (part 1)
“Stand at the brink of the abyss of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little and have a cup of tea.”
(Elder Sophrony of Essex)
That quote that our priest always mentions took on practical meaning last week. On Saturday, I felt like I had reached the edge of the abyss and Chinese takeout was the unexpected proverbial back-breaking straw. I was done, done with Lent, overwhelmed, definitely beyond my ability to carry forward.
It’s a miraculous thing, really. What am I doing other than avoiding meat and dairy products? Life carries on as normal in so many ways – we still eat, work, play, pay bills. But maybe because this season has a name and because the Church is explicit in articulating the purpose and focus of this season, life’s intensity is heightened. Circumstances don’t change, but we make choices to try and eliminate distractions and to focus more precisely on our issues, our struggles, our sins, and opportunities to grow. It seems that once you say to God that you’d like to grow, that you’re open to changing, to becoming more like Him, then He floods life with opportunities for growth. Unexpectedly, these opportunities take many forms, from the sublime to the ridiculousness of shrimp fried with their heads on (true story).
Now that Pascha is glowing on the ever-nearer horizon and the overwhelming power of Holy Week is tangibly close, I am holding these two paradoxical realities in my hands: I have grown, thank God, and I see that maybe those few times when I took a few breaths instead of responding in anger, when I caught myself in the act of judging and tried to choose compassion instead demonstrate that little budding of Love. And in the same breath, I’m floored by these stories I’m reading of remarkable Christ-followers who were clairvoyant, healed people, survived tremendous difficult with great joy and I am convinced that I’m still a beginner, that I’m barely getting started in this journey toward becoming like Christ, and certain that I’ll need Lent again next year to shake me awake again to all of this.