Lenten Rhythm

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, December 2010
– PDF version –

Several years ago I sat around the kitchen table in the rectory with a friend discussing our upcoming Lenten discipline. My friend taught Scripture at a Catholic university and she had been received into the Catholic Church the previous Easter. She challenged me to look at Lent differently. We stumbled on an image of Lent being a delicate dance, a relationship with God who longs to offer us healing and love.

Our discussions led us into this unique dance of partners that Lent offers us, sacrifice and grace, sin and forgiveness, contrition and change, suffering and love. We discussed our need to understand the Scriptures differently than in previous years. We realized that we needed to go beyond taking the gospels for granted, beyond our automatic responses and our usual patterns of praying and living them.

We then tripped over the idea to actually take a few dance lessons for our Lenten offering. Somehow I agreed to sign up for Tango, the most complicated dance of all. All of a sudden I found myself in a downtown dance studio just after Ash Wednesday. The instructor assumed we were a couple and just could not quite figure our motives for pursuing dance since neither of us was at all a natural.

We laughed more than we danced, we tripped over our feet more than we felt the rhythm of the music and we embarrassed ourselves during the three weeks of lessons. Real dance is more complicated than we thought, the footwork, the balance and the emotions. Our insights and discouragements led us back to the Lenten gospels to examine the relationships that are crucial in this season.

Jesus encounters a delicate relationship with the temptations of the devil. The two tango with the scriptures and God who promises support even when we dash our feet against a stone. We partake in this sacred dance when our two left feet deal with our sin against helping people who cannot stand up for themselves or feed their children. In Lent our relationships with overeating, drug use and extramarital affairs stop us in our tracks. Our convictions must speak louder than the din of anger, rage and neglect. Lent must be centered on the real pain of our people, the disillusionment of our spirits and the temptations of our emotions.

Lent calls us to get a new perspective on our lives. This perspective is not from a high mountaintop, but an inner awareness that a new vision is possible even for the most stubborn among us. Fear is the culprit we must all deal with in Lent. Dancing with fear can lead us to self-absorption, lack of love and empty relationships. Taking fear by the hand can lead us all into the love that God has for even the most callused or confused partner.

The woman of Samaria danced around her past in the presence of Jesus. He knew her heart and the real person behind the water jar and the fear. He named her real thirst, gave her hope to drink and sent her on her way to set others free. This marvelous dance at the well at noontime still shows us that Christ is in relationship with sinners, doubters and outcasts. This holy dance is for everyone. Christ opens up faith to be about people, not certainty, correct rubric or dancing the tightrope of politics.

Jesus still spits on the ground making clay with saliva in order for us all to see. We are still blind to teenagers having sex in schools, adults shooting heroin in movie theaters and gangs murdering our elderly grandparents. We still do not think people suffering homelessness are our sisters and brothers nor do we really see that children need food in an era of severe obesity. The Lenten dance takes us by the heart, puts spittle on our ears and courage in our souls.

We also realize we cannot dance in the dark. Jesus finally goes to his friend Lazarus and teases him out of the grave. Lazarus slowly moved his body in a divine dance, being released from the burial clothes and the bonds of death. We too, shake ourselves from even the fear of death in order to live a new life in Christ. We wake up to life when the bandages of fear are slowly unraveled in faith, hope and love.

Lent beckons the soul in a dance of new life. We discover our faith again in the radical rhythms of Christ’s death and resurrection. These gospels of the Lenten season take us by the hand and form in us authentic life.

This is the beginning of conversion for us no matter where we worship. Even though my friend and I did not master the Tango, I entered that year more deeply into the invitation that God takes the lead of every aspect of my life. The task for us all is to keep dancing in the love God offers each person no matter our stumbling, no matter our falling and no matter our lack of rhythm.

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