One of the most noticeable aspects of my Lenten journey is the perceived expansion of time that goes along with, but is not necessarily connected to, the minimization of my concerns about food. This expanded sense of time is not due simply to the amount saved because food preparation is cut to a minimum, or because one makes enough soup, say, to last for a few days. A genuinely different quality to the experience of time in the Lenten journey signals more than the contribution such superficial changes may make.
Emphasis on prayer and contemplation contribute to this experience, I am sure. Those aspects of the Lenten journey center us, which makes our lives more manageable because prayer and contemplation provide depth to the experience of time in a way that the usual activities of life do not. We are usually caught up in time as if we were racing against some imagined end or goal. In the midst of the usual activities of life we are mostly aware of linearity; that is, time ends as the clock advances. We can almost see it marching over a precipice, never to return. Again, we speak about time lost or time gained as if it were a substance. We talk about how we “fill our time,” as if it were a bucket holding a certain amount of this substance. We think that we only have so much.
The Lenten disciplines, however we may perceive them, bring a different dimension into our experience. Charitable giving increases, which indicates to us that we could do so much more with our resources if only we were willing to unclench our hands, look beyond our self-centeredness, and discover those who need what we have. This is not purely monetary; it shapes how we approach our communities and alters our world-view.
This experience of time in Lent spills onto eternity. Christians are fond of saying that in Christ Jesus time has broken into eternity, even as space has been punctuated by infinity. Eternity is not simply endless time, because that concept still works within an understanding of time as linear substance. The Lenten disciplines work a kind of magic within us. Because they turn us away from quotidian concerns to a deeper sensibility about life, they provide the means for eternity to invade time. We sense a different dimension to time that is often closed to us in our day to day existence, so distracted are we by the things we “must” accomplish. Taking away that sense of ought-ness and driven-ness lets us see our lives differently, enables us to see from eternity back into time, and thus puts our lives into perspective.
Welcome to Lent.