Keeping a Holy Lent
Years ago, when my family and I lived in the Pacific Northwest, we had the opportunity to visit Mount St. Helens. You may know that mountain is a volcano that erupted in deadly, spectacular fashion in May, 1980.
Though I knew about the volcanic eruption’s devastating effect on the mountain, its wildlife, and the people who lived within the miles and miles of landscape which surrounded Mount St. Helens, the area had a much more profound impact on me spiritually than I anticipated.
I expected to see confirmed the details I already knew. I expected to hear stories of destruction, of wasted beauty, of death. I did.
As we drove up the mountain, there was a clear line after which there was little left. The forest, the wildlife, the lush greenery that is omnipresent elsewhere in the breath-taking Cascade Mountains, was absent. Though it had been many years since the eruption, it left an indelible mark on the landscape. It was a solemn realization, but it was part of the natural order. It felt like a holy place.
Today, we enter the season of Lent. One of my high school student friends asked me on Facebook yesterday what “Lent” was:
Lent is a season of the traditional church year. It is a 40 day period of time beginning tomorrow (Ash Wednesday) and continuing until Easter – it doesn’t include Sundays because they are always a day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. From ancient times, people have taken the practice of giving up (sacrificing, fasting) something(s) in order to more clearly focus on what God has done for us and prepare our hearts to celebrate Easter with new commitment and understanding.
Sometimes people will fast from (give up) a particular food, or something that consumes their time (like Facebook, TV or other screen time). Usually, I have preferred to take up a new devotional practice, read a more difficult devotional or theological book, or develop a new habit of prayer. Whatever is chosen, it ought not be “easy” — it should be something that takes attention and discipline, so that we know we need God’s help to accomplish it. It’s a reminder that we didn’t earn salvation ourselves, but it required God.
A quick reply, to be sure. The season calls us to particular devotion, above and beyond the regular habits, and to set aside some of the comforts of our lives through prayer, fasting, and study, in order to more deeply understand what our salvation cost — Jesus’ life. We intentionally revisit the story of “before” to more deeply understand the story of “after.”
So what does this have to do with the stunning destruction of the eruption of Mount St. Helens?
As the literal fire and molten rock of the mountain laid waste to what had accumulated for miles around it, Lent is a season holding an invitation for the spiritual fire of the Holy Spirit to lay waste to the accumulation of our lives. Lent is a season to shed “it’s about me” and re-focus on “it’s about Jesus.”
During our tour of Mount St. Helens, the Park Service officer who led our group told us about something remarkable. Spirit Lake, which had been boiled to death by the molten flow, had recently been found to have microscopic life. The surrounding forest land, which had been dense and lush but left in ashes feet deep, was sprouting new growth. Re-creation was underway.
My Lenten prayer? Lord, let re-creation be underway.
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Gibbons, Patti (MC1986)
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