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March 5, 2003

Ash Wednesday

Lent seems almost beside the point this year. Or perhaps too pointed for us to readily embrace. Mortification is in the offing, but rather than show a willingness to give anything up, our nation is demanding that the rest of the World surrender everything to us. The actual sacrifice required of America is hardly being discussed. It does not appear that the cost of war will be assumed as a spiritualizing ascesis, rather it will be extracted in the usual way, from those least able (or willing) to pay.

Our days are already Lenten, pleasures suspended; rendered unfulfilling. Not by accident the season occupies the livid landscape of the guttering late Winter. And a brutal Winter it has been, but the political gamesmanship is even more agonizing, and one has the awful desire simply to get it all over with. Surely forty days should be enough? Then back to Spring, and business as usual...
But there is no good end that way, no change in humanity's historical habit of self-destruction.

The pale gestures of Lent, if offered sincerely, can change us.
Even the little denials, the cigarette not smoked; the chocolates not indulged in; the unnecessary purchase forgone, even these will make different people of us, if we follow through on the implications of the abnegation. The denial is just a tool, used to effect a greater change. By altering a habit we depend on, we unleash our capacity for transformation; our ability to change into new, and we hope, better, people. Which is to say, we have the chance to be reborn.

Lent is meant as a period of reflection, meditation and self-restraint, which prepares us to face the Mystery of Rebirth. We desecrate the Mystery if we equate it with victory in battle. Fighting a Lenten war seems impropitious to me. If we can just resist for this little while the urge to glut upon our violent strength, (for we have better strengths,) if we can restrain ourselves for the duration, at the end of our ascesis we may find that war is not the necessity we thought, after all.
But if we decided that it is, we can still go ahead and attack, on Easter Sunday, and really show the rest of the World what kind of "Christian nation" they're dealing with.

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