‘Who are you, God, and who am I?
-Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
Frederick Buechner defines the ancient church season of Lent this way:
“In many cultures, there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days.
“After being baptized by John in the River Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.” (Listening to Your Life, 56.)
During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.
Instead of giving up something or taking on something as a Lenten practice this year, what if we spent forty days and nights asking ourselves, prayerfully and consistently, Who am I?
Or, as Francis of Assisi is said to have prayed every night, “Who are you, Lord God? And who am I?”
Buechner offers some guidelines for this inward journey:
“When I look at my face in the mirror, what do I see in it that I most like, and most deplore?” (Wrinkles don’t count.)
“If I had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to me, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?
“Of all the things I have done in my life, which is the one I would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes me happiest to remember?”
Sounds like a Lenten Outward Bound course, doesn’t it? Challenging on many levels, it may require strength and courage we did not know we had. We very well may find ourselves having entered our own personal wilderness, so it will be helpful to remember that, according to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the wilderness is the place where Jesus spent time learning who he was.
Barbara Brown Taylor, one of our extraordinary Lenten Preachers, who will be with us March 22 & 23, writes,
“Wilderness comes in so many shapes and sizes that the only way you can tell you are in one is to look around for what you normally count on to save your life and come up empty. Needless to say, this is not a situation many of us seek. Most of us, in fact, spend a lot of time and money trying to stay out of it, but I don’t know anyone who succeeds at that entirely or forever.
“I guess that could sound like bad news, but I don’t think it is. I think it is good news, because even if those of us who end up there want out again as soon as possible, the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be.”
Who are you? Who am I? To hear ourselves try to answer those questions is to begin to hear something not only of who we are but also of who we are becoming. So hang on.
If it seems like sackcloth and ashes at the beginning, it very well may be like Easter at the end.