Lent is for roadwork

by Demi Prentiss

We’re just two weeks into Lent. Whether we’ve given something up or taken something on, the discipline is just beginning to pinch. Or maybe we haven’t yet settled on a Lenten discipline. Br. Jim Woodrum of the Society of St. John the Evangelist offers this advice:

It may be that there is a laundry list you have prayerfully assembled to tackle this Lent. You are not going to get to everything. Pick one or two things and then stick with those. Hold these intentions as a focus of your prayer with Jesus and ask him to heal and transfigure them. In this way we can turn a season of discipline into a lifetime of discipleship.

Lent as a season of healing and transfiguration seems almost counter-intuitive. Many of us have been taught to look at Lent through the purple lens of sacrifice, mortification of the flesh, fasting, and self-denial. Though all of those practices are intended to be life-giving, the word “transfiguration” calls up images of Mt. Tabor and Jesus’s radiance, not the sackcloth and ashes of Lent.

For engineers, “roadwork” means tearing up what’s damaged and re-laying a serviceable road – healing the highway. For athletes, “roadwork” means conditioning, putting in hours and miles to build stamina and strength. It’s a discipline that prevents injury and imbeds essentials of movement.

For me, in my walk as a Christian, Lent is the season of “roadwork,” in both senses. I am grateful for several “mountain top” experiences along my life journey. And I have to admit that Jesus’s deflating “you have to leave the mountaintop” has proved, for me, more life-giving than the flash of revelation. Not just because “all good things must come to an end.” More because in the valley, on the journey, through the daily grind and the ebb and flow of everyday life, that is where the lessons become real, and the habits are formed. That is where the durable transformation happens.

The Rev. Erik Parker, “The Millennial Pastor,” puts it this way:

In the process of faith, in the journey of Lent, through our time spent in communities of faith, we are TRANSFORMED. In the waters of baptism, through the hearing of the Gospel alongside our siblings in faith, through the Bread and Wine made Body and Blood, we are changed to our very core. Transformed from sinners into God’s beloved, made holy and righteous by the One who meets us with forgiveness and grace. 

The mountaintops feel great; they are respite for the moment. But it is along the way of faith that God is making us into new creations, into the people that we were first created to be in Christ. 

May our faith communities, like the waters of baptism, immerse us in the discipline of Lent, marinating us in Jesus’s way of healing and transformation.

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