I didn’t grow up observing Lent. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate this sparse 40-day season observed by some Way-farers.
It’s a time of acknowledging that we come open-handed to life, preparing ourselves by subtraction to be embraced by the energies of Christ’s resurrection: in time and eternity, in the ordinary and the numinous, in us and as us, through us and around us.
How is this season preparing me now, about ten days in?
This Lent, I’m finding that strange phrases light up my sorrow, and deepen my joy.
“Tempus Edax Rerum,” my t-shirt ‘accidentally’ read on Ash Wednesday, as I received ashes mixed with glitter from my pastor friend Sara.
“Time, devourer of all things.”
At first blush, this seems a succinct echo of what is traditionally said as the ashes are imposed by stained hands across the planet:
“Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris” —
“Remember, human, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
But in the former, from the first-century Latin poet Ovid, I hear unforgiving entropy, sweetened perhaps by the great equalizer of annihilation and little else.
In the latter, a Latin liturgy of somewhat-more recent vintage (echoing ancient Hebrew poetry), I hear an equal affirmation of finitude, but with something more:
I’m finite, but I’m cosmic, too. From stardust I was born, to stardust I return, as Pastor Sara would say after this hellacious year so many of us have experienced.
All of this points me to a final strange utterance — ‘Trogoautoegocrat.’
”I eat myself to maintain myself.”
What in the world is this all about? Here we see a cosmic principle suggested: the Law of Reciprocal Feeding.
Whether observed in what we aptly call ‘the food chain‘ in nature or noticed in how a glance from someone we care about can either fill us up or seemingly suck all the oxygen from a room, everything feeds on everything else; everything is food for everything else.
Either consciously or unconsciously, mutual nourishment is how the entire Universe, the Great Chain of Being, is maintained — and indeed, how we (individually and collectively) gain energy or lose it.
It is in this space, within each moment, that we choose between ‘tempus edax rerum’ and ‘memento mori’:
Between letting time devour us or remembering ourselves, with great intentionality.
Between unconsciousness and energetic heart-burn, or remorse of conscience, gratitude, and truly digesting our lives.
This year, I have suffered much.
And I’m increasingly aware of how I’ve brought suffering to others’ doors — always with the ‘best of intentions,’ of course.
So what have I been doing to ‘observe Lent’ this year? Ha!
This year, I feel like Lent is observing me.
And so I’m allowing this season to do its work: remembering that I am dust, and feeling my own great return.
In echoes of the great second-century Hymn of Jesus:
I would be wounded; and I would wound.
I would be consumed for love; and I would consume.
I would be begotten; and I would beget.
I would eat; and I would be eaten.
Mercy to us all.
Recommended Resources for a Fruitful Lent:
Lent Another Way – curated by The Many. This is a no-frills online guide, giving you a daily email with a short meditation, and a reflection/writing prompt each of these 40 days. Jasmin Pittman Morrell is one of the contributors!