I surrendered to Lent this year. Embraced the fast altogether. Didn’t even pay attention to the “wine and oil” days when those ingredients were temporarily permitted.
This behavior wasn't motivated by an attempt to be good or spiritual. I just didn’t care that much about what needed to be let go of.
I also went to church a lot more, and for a similar reason. The things that could have been done instead didn't seem very important.
The fact is, I just felt tired of my life as it has been for so long, the appetites and activities of before. I felt weary of the world and its ways in me.
Midway through Lent, a friend invited me to accompany him for a retreat at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Anthony in Florence, Arizona. This struck me as a sign from God.
Five days of focused spirituality ensued. We were awakened every night at 12:30 AM, then went into the church and prayed until 5:00 AM. The solemnity of the candle-lit interior, the calm movements of the monks revering icons in the dead of night and chanting (every word in Greek) - were all stupendously beautiful.
After a breakfast of beans and octopus I would stumble into the daylight, crouch among the saguaro cacti, and weep. My life history hung like a curtain of infamy before my eyes, a dark shroud of concentrated evil seemingly defying every aspiration of hope to be a whole and healed person.
And through this, a question presented itself again and again: what, exactly, is the “sacred”?
Is holiness only of the non-immanent God, something completely “other” than humanity, to which we have no access save through the mediation of a savior?
Or is it what we are already at the deepest level – that is to say, our very Being, which no one else can truly mediate?
Or is it both . . . or neither?
I believe life’s purpose is to respond to this ultimate question through transformation . . . by becoming, if this doesn't seem too presumptuous, the answer. The Hero’s Journey is not completed through a statement of faith or mere conceptual schematic, but experientially: begun in quiet humility, ended in triumphant ignominy.
Surely this is the message of Good Friday, for why else would the sinless Son of God be required to die on a Cross?
There is that within us which is destined to reign though born obscure, like Jesus.
Yet as soon as that royal child comes into existence, the powers of the world are out to get it, just as Herod ordered his soldiers to kill the baby Jesus. So Joseph takes the child and flies to Egypt, and into hiding.
The holy infant, the Truth of Being, is hidden from and persecuted by the self-serving humanity which each of us becomes outwardly. This divine child, having no place to rest and lay its head, is rejected and condemned.
Why is this so? Why does the Christ suffer Crucifixion?
Why does He who has authority to command ten thousand angels endure such humiliation? It is an extraordinary paradox, to which theology posits various contradictory interpretations.
Perhaps understanding of this comes to those souls who discern that they have indeed, like Herod, like Judas, like Pilate, persecuted, betrayed and condemned Christ in their own lives - both within and without.
And yet, that through doing so, they now stand at the foot of the Cross and can say with a conviction that was not possible before,
“Truly, this was the Son of God. “