I picked up a Lenten Bible study off the couch yesterday and opened it up.
“We are but dust, but we have a Savior!”
That was the first line of the thing. I read a bit more and didn’t think much about it. This morning, on Ash Wednesday, we read Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 6, warning us about earthly popularity and earthly possessions. As we discussed the readings while sipping coffee in a comfortable cafe, a question slowly formed in my mind:
What are we actually being saved from?
Now before you all jump in with the Sunday school answer, let this question settle in.
Picture yourself in a boat. The water is quiet. The wind, calm. All of a sudden, a life line is thrown to you from the shore.
“Grab hold!” comes the call across the water.
You take hold, wondering what all the fuss is about, and are pulled safely to shore. Your savior stands there with arms wide open, ready for your ecstatic response.
“Thanks, I guess,” you say as you walk off, scratching your head at the whole thing.
This is what salvation looks like when we don’t have a good grasp on what we are being saved from. In the boat, I had everything in control. I was not in any danger. So when I was “saved,” I didn’t know how to respond.
Lent is a period for us to discover those things that we need to be saved from. Jesus’ words challenge us to let go of our reputations and possessions. So Lent becomes a time where we respond to that challenge by giving up a form of entertainment, or social media, or an indulgence like caffeine or sugar.
Most of these are minor inconveniences for us. Rarely do we make ourselves truly uncomfortable during Lent. After all who would voluntarily choose to suffer?
Unfortunately for us, we rarely grow closer to the Divine while we are comfortable. Moses, David and Jesus all found something fundamental through their wanderings in the wilderness. They didn’t choose to be there. It seems against human nature to “repent” (change our whole way of thinking) unless we have exhausted all other options.
If we skip to salvation while still carrying our pride, privilege and possessions, we miss the message of Lent.
So we must enter into suffering, vulnerability and humility. Many of us have gone through such a wilderness and can speak to the depth of understanding that experience gives us. If we can recapture that posture: that we don’t have it all together and everything is not neatly figured out, we can begin to understand what we are being saved from.
Thomas Merton talks about a “lucky wind” in his poem, “When In The Soul Of The Serene Disciple.”
When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.
Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions.
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.
Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.
What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.
Should we desire that same wind to blow in our lives? That same wind to force us back into this posture of vulnerability and humility? Should we pray for it? I don’t know if I can say one way or another.
I can say that when it does blow, we have no choice in the matter.
Maybe that is the thing that Lent is meant to teach us. Our striving for power, control, possessions and positions is powerless to protect us from that “lucky wind.”
We are but dust.
May we be saved from our frequent inability to remember that one unifying truth.