Today I’m continuing my Lenten reflections from the book, God For Us. You can catch up from previous posts here:
“Facing the Desert Inside” (March 14)
“Cleansing the Palate” (March 7)
My friend Scott Cairns wrote the main sections I’ll be quoting from today. He also wrote the wonderful new collection of poems, Idiot Psalms, which I’m also reading during Lent. (Here’s a nice interview Cairns gave with Angela Doll Carlson about Idiot Psalms.)
This coming Sunday is called The Veneration of the Holy Cross in the Orthodox calendar. It marks the half-way point of Great Lent, the “hump day” of our journey. This day will have great meaning and power to those pilgrims who are taking the journey seriously—making efforts to fast, pray and give alms—and is meant as a point of refreshment along the way. As Cairns says in God For Us:
If we have been paying due attention to our journey along the way, we will have confronted the so-far chronic illness of our personal sin—our missing or the mark—will have examined the untoward effects of that illness on our persons and in our relationships with others, through prayer and fasting we will have experienced some measure of what I think of as the ache of repentance, which is the beginning of our healing.
The ache of repentance, which is the beginning of our healing. I love the way Cairns says this (he is, after all, a poet) and it was just the reminder I needed personally this week. I am, at this point, a weary pilgrim. Although my personal weariness isn’t so much from the self-inflicted ascetics of fasting and increased attendance at church, but more from the other-inflicted struggles of illness (day three of a pretty bad cold/sinus infection/cough) and on-going recovery from my wreck and surgeries. I think either method of delivery works on our souls, if we let it. And if we don’t get negative about it. As Cairns continues:
Don’t beat yourself up. This sense of having already met—and so quickly—the limits of our strength is actually a very good thing. Like the children of Israel, we already have traveled a significant distance, have tasted the waters of the desert, and have found them to be bitter. This is where the cross comes to our assistance.
The cross. It’s what turned Saint Mary of Egypt from her life of prostitution to one of a miracle-working dessert hermit in the fourth century. It’s what calls each of us today to turn from whatever is holding us back from the lives we are meant to live.
As Beth Bevis says (also writing in God For Us):
Orthodox Christians see their mid Lent Sunday as a time of refreshment and encouragement. When turning to the cross halfway through Lent, the faithful are reminded that, while Lenten efforts may have brought fatigue, ultimate deliverance does not depend on human strength: through the cross and Resurrection, Christ has already conquered sin and death.
I am so ready to turn my focus from my own individual preparation to Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. I am pretty much spent with my own inadequate efforts. And so I look forward to leaning on Christ’s strength for the rest of the journey. With a little help from my friends, like Scott Cairns and this wonderful poem, which appears in Idiot Psalms:
The breakfast was adequate, the fast
itself sub-par. We gluttons, having
modified our habits only somewhat
within the looming Lenten dark, failed
quite to shake our thick despair, an air
that clamped the heart, made moot the prayer.
As dim disciples having seen the light
we supplied to it an unrelenting gloom.
Wipe your chin. I’m dying here
in Omaha, amid the flat, surrounded
by the beefy, land-locked generations,
the river, and the river’s rancid shore.
O what I wouldn’t give for a lifting,
cool salt breeze, a beach, a Labrador.
[reprinted by permission from Scott Cairns]