Lent means Spring. This strikes me as odd, especially today, a day that speaks to our fragility and mortality. It is profoundly counterintuitive on this sober, serious day, to think of jubilantly versus welcoming Spring. Today we face death, literally. We inscribe its mark on our brow. We carry its stench in our nostrils. We remember deep in our bones, that life is not forever, that everything and everyone we love will someday pass again into the dust out of which we were born.
Last Spring, during Lent, I took up a practice of walking, noticing, and photographing the signs of Spring. I took photos of buds, and green shoots, unfurling leaves, blossoms fallen on rainy sidewalks. I photographed ice melting and herons nesting. I reveled in the beauty of all that was emerging. I found wonder in things I normally would not have noticed. I slowed myself down to take in Spring one day at a time, to welcome its resurrection message whole-heartedly.
What does it mean to obey the summons the prophet puts in the mouth of God? “Return to me with all your heart?” What would it look like to allow this season of Lent, these days of early Spring, to be a time for you of single-heartedness—a dogged, focused, unrelenting return to the life God wants you to experience? How could you use this time to set aside all that prevents you from entering into joy that is complete, joy so powerful it defies death, joy that is sweet beyond the power of words to describe?
What if you decided to be of the same mind, to have the same love, to share the same spirit, as Christ? I’ve begun to realize, lately, that this is possible. This is who we are. There is a death that is like a seed on the wind. There is a surrender that is like the Spring rain. There is a letting go that is like an opening to the warmth of the sun. It’s not just a poet’s dream: “this springtime blooming/this endless moving/from life into deeper life.” It’s for real and it’s meant for us.
In The Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgealt describes metanoia (usually translated repentance) in a more literal fashion. Repentance is a matter of going beyond our own minds and hearts and into the larger mind and heart of Christ. This is how death becomes life in us. Bourgealt writes:
The Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus’ own favorite way of describing a state we would nowadays call a “nondual consciousness” or “unitive consciousness.” The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. Oneness . . . a complete mutual indwelling. . . . I am in God, God is in you, you are in God, we are in each other. (p. 31)
This consciousness offers a sense of being held, living, and moving and taking our being from a love that is truly endless, a love that transcends the limits that death imposes on us. Lent is like Spring training. It is a practice ground for our endless moving from life to deeper life. Lent is a gift to us; it offers a manageable, specific way of entering into something that is truly a universal spiritual undertaking.
I have this irresistible feeling, in this time of great strain and struggle in the life of our world, that Springtime is coming to the earth. Many months ago, the novel The Overstory shifted my understanding of what’s really going on on this planet. What our history means and where it is leading us. Whose story is being told here. I realized that the earth itself is communicating with us. Teaching us how to die to our separateness, how to let go of our control, how to surrender to the greater mind and heart.
I’ve been driving an electric car for several months now, a Chevy Bolt. I took it in for service. The dealership was full of the noise of running engines and the exhaust of pick-up trucks and SUVs. The tech servicing my vehicle said to me, “Is it quiet?” “Oh yes,” I replied. “I love it. It is so fun to drive.” He said, “I’m not sure I could get used to that!” I smiled, and I thought to myself, oh, we will all get used to this! This is our future. This is who we are.
All outward appearances may suggest that we will persist on our path of death, killing our planet, killing each other, killing any hope of a future for our grandchildren. But I know that’s not the case. I know that it is Spring in this world. I feel the hope in my bones. Just as surely as I know the reality of the cross of my own death, I know the path that leads to life for the world. I see it unfolding before us. The clunky inelegant sound of a gas engine running is simply no longer who we are. The noise, the stench, the apathy and the status quo will soon be a thing of the past. It is passing away.
Soon we will find joy and life in smooth quiet of an electric ride.
Soon we will embrace a new time in the world, Springtime.
The air will smell alive. The light will last. The buds will unfurl. Amen.