This year for Lent I let everything fall apart. Primarily, my belief that if I practiced some technique carefully and fervently enough, I would feel good. For the second year, I let my abstention from alcohol and chocolate go. I picked up meditating again for a while, and then I let that go, too. I didn’t carry anything with me. Nothing made it special, except the decorations at church and my own deeply ingrained feeling, from Christian practice fitting me like a glove, and generations of observance before me in my blood. I knew it was Lent.
If you’ve grown up Christian, you’ve heard the Passion story so many times it’s hard to notice it. Jesus basically has the worst day you can imagine. The details of the worstness are both touchingly human (your friends are nowhere to be found when you’re in trouble) and absurdly exotic (people offer you a sponge soaked in wine). You’ve got your emotional suffering, your physical suffering, your fear of being snatched up by the authorities, and it all culminates in the fear of death. It’s a no good, very bad day.
Spiritual movement is about letting more and more things go, until finally you are only carrying what is yours: a soul, maybe, a spirit, a sight, a sound, an impulse, a knowing. This year I let go of my long-cherished image of myself as Always Perfectly Healthy. I’ve been working on letting go of I Must Move to New York To Be Real, and I Desperately Want To Have Children Before It’s Too Late Except When I Don’t, and My Life Doesn’t Actually Begin Until I’m Securely Coupled. My toughest, which will probably occupy the rest of my life, is I Am Perfectly Fine, Thank You. These scripts don’t really do much for me but keep my brain occupied. I’d rather look at paintings and watch movies and read books and talk to friends and write. I’d even rather do the dishes while feeling the water and listening to the scrub of the brush.
In the Passion story, Jesus gives up his friends, his family, his body, his physical life. He doesn’t give up his emotions or his pain. He’s sad and angry and confused. He’s hurting. It’s a great story because someone, after it happened, felt that God was with Jesus through the whole business, and that nothing about who Jesus was became diminished by his (probably ignominious) death. In fact, they felt his message get stronger, and bolder, and brighter, as time went on. Which is a real miracle.