The time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7.29-31)
From Service to Sentience
One of Lent’s abiding beauties is discovering each season’s character, for no two of them is ever alike. As a relative newcomer—my traditional upbringing didn’t observe Lent—I’ve walked sacred deserts, revealing ones, and one or two bordering on the mystical. Still, none has confronted me with the intellectual rigor of the current one. In part, it results from the 40-Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, our church’s adopted Lenten guide. Bonhoeffer’s all-or-nothing map is tough-minded stuff aimed at restoring the disciplines of discipleship by revolutionizing how we perceive following Christ. It’s less about our response to life’s daily challenges than the thinking that molds responses to Christ’s commands. This adds unusual stress on reflexes not often exercised by Lent’s passage. Meanwhile, the standard pursuits—self-denial, contemplation, prayer, consecration, penitence, etc.—are assumed, not replaced. At two weeks into this journey, I find weariness of mind and the toil of reorienting my concept of discipleship from service to sentience are my closest companions. They ask much of me; based on comments at last Tuesday evening’s study group, I’m hardly alone. Throughout the discussion, people said, “This was a rough week.”
It turns out we (i.e., our local faith community) are hardly alone. Comments here, along with posts and comments elsewhere, email exchanges, and conversations with other believers—none of whom, to my knowledge, is digging through Bonhoeffer—express comparable sentiments. Numerous bloggers journaling their travels, sharing personal impressions or daily contemplations, likewise seem to hear a call for heightened awareness of Christ’s presence and lordship in their lives, a sentience that informs their service to God and their neighbors.
Such an endeavor is wearying work, even vexing at times, as we labor to wrap our minds around concepts we thought we understood or overlooked because we don’t understand them as well as we should. At the risk of gross presumption, our present desert seems to be guiding many of us back to basics, asking us first to distill what we know about the mind and nature of Christ and then ground our thoughts and behaviors to reflect them more accurately. This schooling is very close in form to Jesus’s wilderness experience. Matthew 4.1-3 confirms the desert’s 40-day course prepares us for temptations awaiting its end: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. [Then] the tempter came to him.” The desert's cauldron refines our character down to its essentials.
Lent endows us with discipline to overcome future tests. It clears our heads of what we think and are told to believe, leaving us with what faith teaches us to know. It’s the training ground where we identify and confront weaknesses that compromise discipleship in a constantly changing, uncertain world. Year after year, Lent’s message is “Be prepared.” Since only God sees what’s in store for us, individually as disciples and collectively as the Body of Christ, our course of preparation is the Spirit’s domain. In John 16.13, Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” Thus, this season’s widely noted call for keener sentience to Christ’s presence and principles anticipates the coming months. We’re being schooled for future service to God and our neighbors.
Processing Lent’s lessons mounts our sense of urgency. This year, our desert travels seem constantly interrupted by proof of how desperately the world needs authentically disciplined, fully prepared followers of Christ—people who take their duties as the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and living beatitudes with the utmost seriousness. If nothing else, the past two weeks have vividly taught us how fragile our existence is. Not even the ground under our feet is stable. Every day finds us leaping headlong from one disaster into another. Preparing for any eventuality leaves no time to for haggling over what we can hang onto and still meet discipleship’s demands. Paul’s urgency for the Corinthians to release any impediments to their preparation speaks to us: “The time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” Be sentient. Be prepared. Only God knows what lies ahead.
The Holy Spirit sets our Lenten course, preparing us for what lies beyond the desert.