Sometimes Lent Is Not a Slog

 

Blog: Overheard

I was at a Lebanese restaurant and felt like the only Okie in the room, but the food was great and I had a good book with me. The tables were full and close together. I was reading, sort of, when I became aware of a large party getting up to leave. Near me a man was talking to a woman. “I’ve given up the snooze button,” he said.

Now he had my attention. It took me a couple of minutes—he went on about other things he was giving up, and some things he was taking on for himself—when I realized, This guy is a Christian. He’s keeping Lent. (You, dear reader, probably would have figured that out instantly.)

I’d never thought of giving up the snooze button for Lent, but the idea is arresting. If your phone’s alarm goes off, and if after a couple of minutes it stops, and if the snooze thing is deselected, then you either get up or not, right? Giving up the snooze button means your choice is strictly binary: I’m getting up now, or I’m not getting up. If you’re getting up, this is it. No wishy-washy-ness.

Jesus’ coming into the world takes away the middle ground. Once he has come, you are either for him or against him, you’re either on God’s side or you are against God. Before Jesus, we can be mixed up people, undetermined, sort of awake and sort of asleep. After Jesus, the middle ground is gone.

I like this. But I still have my snooze button.

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Some twenty years ago I was catching up with a friend from graduate school. It was about this time of the year, we were at a diner, and he revealed that he had given up adding cream to his coffee. I thought, that’s the simplest Lenten discipline I’ve ever heard of. But then he went on to say, “I found it impossible to keep.” Even something as simple as no cream in your coffee: it is too hard for us.

That is a good thing to learn: how limited, how meager is our self-control without God.

But I also thought: I’m glad I don’t add cream to my coffee (not if it’s good coffee).

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Lent is all around us. I guess the conclusion of these thoughts is that it’s time to get up and smell the coffee.

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Out & About. A strangely popular recent novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, is up next for Good Books & Good Talk, 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 10, at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas. If you read the book you are welcome to join the conversation.

Lenten Programs. This Wednesday, February 28, I am speaking at St. John the Divine in Houston in their Lenten series on “Mortality and the Depths of God’s Love,” with reflections on Susan’s story about trees (the appendix to Losing Susan). It would be great to see any readers who are down in Houston. sjd.org/event/lent-austin?d=2024-02-28

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The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: