Monday, March 06, 2006

Now that we have begun Lent in both East and West, the question arises, why do we do it? Why do we have a season for repentance when we are called to repent regardless of the season? I guess it has to do with how you think of sin. Let us go back to the image of the spiritual life as a journey. We are, all of us, traveling into eternity. When NASA sends a probe out to Jupiter or beyond, the journey of that small piece of machinery is only a fraction of the journey that each of us takes. It is the belief of the Church that this life opens up into something so immeasurably larger that "eye has not seen nor ear heard" what it holds in store. As C. S. Lewis put it in his essay, "The Weight of Glory," we must
remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.
There are, as NASA would tell you, no minor navigation errors at the beginning of a journey of that length. Sin, over the long haul, is a failure of navigation. The term used for sin in the Greek New Testament, hamartia, means literally to miss the mark, like an archer missing a target. If the spiritual life is a journey, then repentance is not so much a matter of feeling guilty as it is making a course correction. Lent is the time set aside for us to check our navigation, take some sightings and see just how far off course we have drifted throughout the year. During Lent we check our position with God and the created world through the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The purpose of the disciplines is not to punish or to justify ourselves, but to set right the course for our journey. As Lewis goes on to say in the passage we began quoting above
It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is with immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.