Each year I approach Lent with intent. I move into it knowing that for a little over 40 days I will spend a great deal of time considering what my savior has done for me, and what He expects of me. It is a time to consider my sin and my salvation.
It is the Spring of the Spiritual Year for me. Lent is the warm up lap for Easter. So I consider what I will do to keep me mindful.
I choose something that will be a daily reminder, some task or something I will forgo that I may be reminded to pray. This year I shaved daily. I had that beard for 33 years.
Every morning I shaved before going off to work. During that time of personal grooming I prayed the Lord’s Prayer, adding a few personal thoughts.
Throughout the day, every time I felt the wind on my deforested cheeks, I thanked Him for what He did for me.
When I exhaled and felt the odd sensation of my breath on my upper lip, I smiled at being startled by what is a common experience for most people, and remembered why my facial landscape was naked.
Shaving, and the sensations it brought, was a constant reminder of Lent.
When Easter passed I stopped the morning ritual. My face quickly began to look a touch fuzzy, it was rough to the touch. I wondered... why do we have such a custom? It is a little bizarre to scrape the face, changing it to please some social fashion (my Lord didn't). The Romans shaved. Why did they do it? Probably because the Greeks shaved. Why did they do it? I don’t know. There weren’t any nearby cultures which shaved, certainly no indigenous beardless peoples. If I were to guess, I might say because it made them look younger. They did idolized youth. Folks said I looked younger without the beard.
Aside from stopping the morning ritual, not much changed that first day after Easter. I said a quick prayer as I got into the shower because I missed the morning ritual, but it wasn’t the same. I stopped by Zion Memorial Cemetery on my way to work, to walk and pray. A couple of people at work noticed the shadow appearing on my cheeks.
Lent brought me insights: who I am, what I want to do for my Lord. I wondered if my resolve to remain close to Him this coming year would hold against temptations and laziness. Would I persist in holding true?
I am not going to be a man who does mighty things. I will not be an astronaut, though it was my driving fantasy in 6th grade. I am not going to be a great theoretical physicist, demonstrating how the four forces of the universe are truly one by writing an elegant equation, I haven’t the mathematical aptitude. I will not be president, or a biblical archaeologist, or provide humanity with miraculous cures for terrible diseases. I am not going to be such a man.
I don’t desire those things anyway. Not any more. I will be most happy to live my life, exhaling my last breath in the company of angels who wend me homeward, so I might hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Oh... if I can achieve that...
Ever walk any distance with your eyes closed? Just to see if you can go straight? I do, often. Sometimes when I walk in the mornings I shut my eyes while I pray, the better to concentrate on the sounds of an awakening world, the better to hear my own voice praying to my Lord.
But I must flick my eyes open every so often so I don’t veer off the path around the cemetery. I cannot walk straight for very long.
How long can I walk spiritually straight after Lent?
Not very long. I am a weak man. I get tempted by many things. I can’t by sheer will power hold true. I need to keep glancing at Him to correct my path.
What must it have been like for Adam? He didn’t have the temptations I do. There wasn’t the ice cream in the fridge crying out his name when he lay down to sleep. There wasn’t any television providing prurient images to draw his eyes away from Eve. There weren’t any liquor stores. He wasn’t tempted by greed, he didn’t covet his neighbor’s possessions. There wasn’t any porn or temptations for murder or drugs or theft or envy. Couldn’t I do much better if I wasn’t always so tempted, so surrounded by the ready excesses of a fallen world?
What a strange dichotomy stirs within my beating heart! I have passion for my Lord... yet I crave things He forbids.
Ah, but so did Adam.
Even without the steady blitz of the temptations of my world, my time, Adam fell to just one small temptation, the desire, the curiosity, to taste what he never had. A single sin. One small bite.
This man who walked beside the Lord God on a daily basis, who communed with Him in ways no man has since (excepting our Lord), couldn’t keep himself from sinking his teeth into a pleasant-looking piece of fruit!
Now some may say that it was Eve who tempted Adam, that it was all her fault. I don’t buy it. Neither did God.
Sure, that was the excuse he offered, but it didn’t fool the Almighty.
Adam was standing there watching his wife debate the matter with the serpent; he said nothing. Nothing! Perhaps that was his first sin. He failed her as a husband. Did she glance over at him, asking him what to do?
He failed to lead.
So if Adam could fail, if he could sin, with no more temptation than the sibilant whispering of a fellow creature, another thing made by the Lord, what hope have I of staying true to what I want to be, want to do?
There is a piece of music I love to listen to when I am in the prayer room or writing a post: Arvo Part: Te Deum with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra.
It is beautiful, inspiring. It makes me feel uplifted, closer to Him. Much of the paintings I have done have been to this music. Much of what I have written this past year was while this played over headphones, or on my iPod, or blasting from a CD player.
It helps me imagine rolling vistas of ethereal eternity, sweeping buildings of gold and ivory which pierce rolling thunderheads as they reach ever upward toward some ultimate throne that shines light on all creation, the glow of glory, of salvation.
But, after one hour, the CD stops, I put away my paints, or close my Bible, or get up off my knees, and I go home, or go to work, or go do something that is wholly of this world, and not holy for the next.
And with new tasks, I change. I go back to being a mere man who thinks about temptations, and fails to obey the speed limit, and says edgy comments when I should keep my mouth shut.
I can’t seem to keep my path straight.
My beard grew back rather quickly. Just as the lessons of Lent quickly became things I have done and not things I am doing.
My face once again sports a beard that is rapidly becoming more salt than pepper. I begin to look on the outside much as I did before. Have I changed any on the inside?
A week after Easter passed, before I went to work, I looked in the mirror and saw my beard had fully grown back. If I shaved the cheeks, the throat, I would look clean cut, professional: a respectful and respected member of society.
I wet my face, lathered up the areas I was going to scrape, and went to work. I began to pray.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name...”
I know I will continue to fail. I will continue to sin. I will never be all that I spiritually hope to be, just as I will never be an astronaut. I cannot walk in a straight line with closed eyes for very long. But if I keep glancing up, if I keep orienting myself to the ultimate throne that shines light on all creation, the glow of glory, of salvation, I will do ok.