She sends an email to me with an anxious energy to it. In it, she writes, “Seriously, I’ve not given any thought to Lent this year, and I’m not sure what I should give up.”
“Why don’t you give up being so anxious?” I say. She isn’t amused. We know each other well enough for the banter, but my response also touches a deeper pain within her.
“I haven’t known a day without anxiety for years,” she says. “At least Lent gives me some control over it. I can give up chocolate or social media and feel a little better about myself.”
Later I call her and check in further. Every year, the anxiety ramps up around this time, she tells me. New Year commitments to diet and exercise have faded. Lent seems like the perfect opportunity to recommit. I sense her weariness. I want to be sensitive, and yet I’m mad. I’m mad at Lenten diets. I’m mad at liturgical pragmatism. I’m mad not at her, but for her. I know her story – the expectations she lives with, the buzzing anxiety that covers a brutal shame about her appearance and her obedience.
It’s Transfiguration Sunday, and I’ve just preached at a wonderful church led by friends in Boulder. I preached 2 Cor. 3.
15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
The message of Transfiguration Sunday is that the Spirit reveals you as glorious, I tell her.
Theology has conspired with family-of-origin issues in her life in a way that she’s convinced she’s despicable, that as her pastor says, “God cannot look upon you in your sin so God looks at Jesus.”
“No, you are glorious.”
“But Lent tells me I’m dirt,” she says.
I tell her about Lent. Lent (Lencthen) is a season of lengthening, of springtime hope, of new birth. The seed that falls to the ground bears fruit, I say. I ask her if she plans to go to Ash Wednesday services, and she says yes. I tell her that the imposition of ashes is a glorious thing – an invitation to return to the dust. No more anxious striving. No more cheap “enoughness” substitutes. It’s not about giving up chocolate, but giving up striving. Returning to the ground, the humus…a place of rest, humility, simply being.
“I’m so tired,” she says.
I share a quote from Rabbi Bunim: Keep two pieces of paper in your pocket at all times. One that says, “I am a speck of dust.” And another that says, “The world was made for me.”
“That’s beautiful,” she says. “I needed that.”
Dust and dignity.
Limitation and Love.
“Maybe I am gloriously ordinary and God loves me in that,” she says.
I call it “liturgical therapy,” I say.
Wiser people than me chose to place Transfiguration Sunday right before Ash Wednesday.
Moses ascended into the thin place where heaven meets earth, a place called Sinai. And he radiated the glory.
Jesus ascended the mount followed by his disciples. And he was transfigured before them.
But now you and I are the thin place, the place where heaven meets earth. The Spirit dwells in us, God’s temples.
And we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.