If you count Sundays, today, March 25th, puts us exactly twenty days into Lent. If Lent is forty days, we are exactly half-way through. (If you’re running calculations in your head, just embrace my Lenten Math and call it close-enough-for-ecclesial-work!)
What does Lent look like at this fleeting middle juncture? Am I regretting my half-hearted attempts to become better at prayer, fasting, and almsgiving? Or am I worried about not having enough time left in this season to adequately experience the spiritual preparation and cleansing that Lent is meant to foster? What is my Lenten “journey” supposed to look like?
I’m very good at regretting the past and worrying about the future. Unfortunately, those twin poles of activities end up squandering the present. If I stop my distracted staring into what has been and what has not yet come to be, what does the present moment have to say about Lent?
March 25th, like so many other feasts and popular saints that get tucked into the penitential season (St. Patrick, St. Joseph, the Transitus of St. Benedict), is the Annunciation of the Lord. The angel Gabriel came to Mary of Nazareth to announce that she had found favor with God, and that her Son, whose name would be Jesus, would be called great–the Son of the Most High–and his kingdom would have no end (Luke 1:26-38).
This particular moment in the long story of salvation history is certainly a moment of unsettledness, uncertainty, and even fear for Mary. She would have every right to regret the angel’s breaking in to her (assumedly) fairly normal life, and to worry intensely about what the future would hold. Perhaps this moment where the angel bends down to speak to Mary is also a half-way point in the story of salvation history–a blip in the center between the long unfolding wonder of the Old Testament, and what had not yet been unveiled in the New. Whatever smattering of thoughts Mary may have been having about the past or the future–she looks up at the angel and responds in the present: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
In this moment of the Annunciation, Mary is able to say something about who she IS, in order to step forward into who she will BECOME. So, this present moment in the season of Lent may seem like a strange and joyful blip couched between a fig tree and a fattened calf (if you’re using Year C, not the scrutiny readings). But, perhaps, instead of being an aberrance in the Lenten journey, Mary’s moment of self-reflection and identification might be something we can model ourselves. We may reflect on our past and hope for our future, but we must look up into the eyes of the present. May we be brave enough to say that we are servants of God–and ready to do God’s will.
(Featured image: “The Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, photo by Emily Barney https://www.flickr.com/photos/ebarney/4762865759)