26 February 2012

lenten chocolat

It is the beginning of Lent, and I find that I approach every Lent with a deeper appreciation, a deeper stirring of anticipation, a deeper longing for this time of abiding in the Lord.

In the weeks leading up to this, I can feel my soul turning, opening up, desiring. I want to be pared down. To be pruned. To be grafted closer to the one who pares, prunes, and grafts.

It is not—it cannot be—a guilt-driven longing for repentance, healing, growth.

A guilt-driven longing says:
Why do I fail? Why do I drift? Why do I pull away? Why do I need Lent every year to remind me to stick close? Why am I so unaffected the other 10ish months of the year?
A guilt-driven longing also says:
I will marshal {or perhaps even martial? Such an emphasis on war} my forces; I will bring my conflicting desires in line. I will defeat this. This apathy, fear of honesty, two-facedness, emotional stunting. I will show you, Lord, my love and commitment.
I. I. I. I. I.

{But think of this I: I must become less so that he can become greater.}

Lent is not for punishment as proof.

Lent is not for sacrifice as proof.

I think of the representation of Lent and religiosity in Chocolat, a story that asks: What does love look like? What does it mean to love and serve others—and God?

The Comte, the mayor of the small French village where everyone knows their role {and that they must be seen at church}, views Lent as discipline and deprivation. His Lenten fast is strict and absolute: he has his housekeeper bring him a croissant every night, even though he refuses to touch it. There is such good butter in that flaky pastry, and the Comte confronts it as proof of his strength in the onslaught of temptation. {Just like our Lord and Savior, who fought temptation in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights.}

But there is no joy more hollow than the joy of self-satisfaction. The Comte's Lent is about proving something—his righteousness?—to himself and others. His proof comes in adhering to rules; the Lord must love him more because he is so exacting. See? See his obedience? See how much he must love God? See?

The Comte relies on rules to bring order to his world, and it is possible to see where he's coming from: After all, the Lord wants us to be obedient. He tells us we must share in his suffering. Does it not make sense to use the Lenten fast as a pre-ordained—a God-given—practice of obedience and suffering?

Yes and no.

The blend of answers lies in this: What's your motivation for entering into Lent? Is it Lent as proof—or Lent as a way to grow closer to the Lord?

The Comte in Chocolat doesn't want to know more about the Lord; he wants to show more of himself. To him, loving God means following rules. {And therefore, he equates loving others as imposing rules and making sure they follow. Good thing he's the mayor.}

He overlooks the joy of relationship for the regulation of will.

This is, I admit, a facile interpretation, a reductionist view of Lent and even of Chocolat. It ignores all kinds of gray areas, such as: What about the power of physical deprivation—fasting, you know—to bring about spiritual transformation? What if someone, by strictly following the rules because they aren't sure how else to relate to God—what if the rules lead them to a deeper appreciation of God the Father?

And in Chocolat, what of this gray area? Vianne, the wandering chocolate maker who appears in the village and opens a chocolate shop just in time for Lent, wants true, lasting relationships. While operating on an openness to love, she also craves order. She wants the structure that belonging somewhere can bring, but with belonging and structure come rules and expectations—those very things she fears will drag her down and bind her. However, rules and expectations help us, to some degree, know how to relate to one another—the very thing she loves.

Somewhere between the Comte's masochistic adherence to rules at the cost of relationships and Vianne's paradoxical fear of and longing for entanglement lies the truth: We need order and others, and there is much to celebrate in both of those.

The same truth can, in a way, be applied to Lent: its order {the regularity in the liturgical calendar, the prescribed season of simplifying your life, the march toward the resurrection} holds in it great celebration because it reminds us of our relationship to the Lord and the call we have to live in him.

And it's for that reason—Lent as reminder of the joy of life in the Lord—that I anticipate this time, regardless of what I give up or don't give up and regardless of who knows what I gave up or didn't give up. Lent is a time to celebrate as you lean closer to the Lord and the church.

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