Inspiration and insight arise unexpectedly.
A column is often birthed as a line in a song stands out.
It’s a right-place-at-the-right-time experience. You can’t manipulate or will it to happen. It is impossible to control.
As blog articles and news stories about Lent began appearing last week, signaling the beginning of the journey toward Easter, a song by Damien Rice came to mind that seems to encapsulate the purpose and importance of Lent.
While he isn’t a Christian artist, nor is he overtly religious as far as I can tell, the song has a gospel-tinged sound to it.
When I first heard it a few years ago, I was moved by the lyrics; and, whatever Rice’s intended meaning, I interpreted it through the lens of the Christian gospel. The words have seemed particularly poignant as the journey toward Easter begins.
Like many Baptists in the southern United States, I didn’t grow up with Lenten observances.
My understanding of the season emerged slowly, beginning with an awareness that folks fasted during this time and growing into a fuller recognition of the 40 days as an intentional time for repentance and renewal.
Lent is most commonly associated with fasting – giving up something that one enjoys for 40 days.
While it can be a meaningful part of this season, fasting is a means to an end and should be done without fanfare (see Matthew 6:16-18).
The purpose is to encourage a focus on one’s relationship with God and neighbor.
The fast is not a means to promote one’s spirituality or physical fortitude. It is a tool to aid Christian disciples in reflecting on their journey in the way of Jesus.
In my experience, fasting is like journaling. It works for some, but not for others. Some years I have fasted, other years I have not. In either approach, the goal is intentional self-analysis.
Fasting or feasting is ultimately a tangential matter. The season is about Christians taking time to reflect on their lives in order that they may repent of their failings and may renew their commitment so as “to walk in newness of life” (to use a common baptismal declaration).
Frederick Buechner, in his book, “Wishful Thinking,” commented that during Lent Christians endeavor “to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become.”
It is a time for pausing to remember where we have been and to look soberly at where we are.
Where we have fallen short, we confess our sins – both of commission and omission. Where we have gone astray, we repent to the path Jesus set before us.
In light of Lent’s purpose, Rice’s song “Trusty and True” offers helpful insight into this often-misunderstood season.
He begins with confession. “We’ve wanted to be trusty and true, but feathers fell from our wings. We’ve wanted to be worthy of you, but weather rained on our dreams.”
“We can’t take back what is done, what is past,” Rice sings of his past moral failings, urging that we not let the guilt of past, confessed sins be an anchor. Instead, he advises, “Lay down your fears. … Let us start from here.”
The song closes with a growing chorus that builds on the necessity of recognizing and confessing sin by urging travelers to come, however they are, on the path toward renewed life.
“If all that you are is not all you desire, then come. … Come with fear and love … with friends and foes … with sorrows and songs. Come however you are. Just come,” Rice pleads.
Of course, “Trusty and True” is not an overtly Christian song, which would require nuances to flesh out and firm up its theology. Nevertheless, it can serve as a paradigm of, and soundtrack for, this season.
Lenten pilgrims should remember, rehearse and reaffirm the song’s focus on acknowledging failures as an essential starting point to find new life.
This is particularly needed in an age where confessing sin (from small mistakes to larger moral failings) has become an unpopular concept.
But we must also not let guilt keep us from the journey. Like fasting, confession is a means to a larger goal – to live more fully and faithfully in the way of Jesus.
Recognize and confess where we have failed to live up to all that we wanted and all that we are called to be. Lay down the burden of guilt.
Come as you are, bringing friends and foes, on the path toward new life. This is the journey of Lent.