This issue’s Last Word comes from the Biola University Center for Christian Thought’s blog, The Table (cct.biola.edu/blog). In this article, adapted from a post on April 19, 2014, as part of the “Dust” series of Lenten reflections, Bruce Hindmarsh of Regent College shares two reflections on Lent and love, one from the perspective of abstinence, one from the perspective of intensification.
Lent is about love.
Lenten practices of abstinence might be things such as saying no to alcohol, or giving up social media, or devoting oneself to times of silence (abstinence from words) or solitude (abstinence from people). But abstinence for its own sake only deepens one’s autonomy. Instead one can recognize that all these good gifts (wine, computers, words and even people) are not ultimate. We practice saying no, even for a season to good things, to clarify the spiritual vision by which we see the glory of God as ultimate in our lives. These disciplines help us to see God more clearly, and let more of his light into our lives.
This makes discipline a joyful thing. Imagine that you and the person you love most in the world were separated by a wall that you could not get around. There is a window in the wall and this is the only place where you can see the face you love most of all. The problem is that the window is covered in dirt and grime. How quickly and energetically would you clean that window? Would it be an act of dreary moralism to clean it? Or would every exertion be lightened by the increasingly clear vision of your beloved?
Lent is about love.
Some Lenten disciplines are about intensifying our spiritual gaze. When we use a magnifying glass, a telescope or a microscope, we want to see more closely and profoundly. So likewise with these disciplines. We might have a devotional book for Lent that we read attentively and lovingly. Or we might spend more time memorizing and meditating on Scripture. Or perhaps we begin a gratitude journal. All of these practices are about prolonging and deepening our encounter with God’s Word during Lent.
After all, love notices details in the beloved. Love does not rest content in generalities, nor is it content with a passing glance. And so Lent is a time to study every detail of the beloved, backward and forward, and to intensify our gaze into the mystery of God’s love for us in Christ.
Bruce Hindmarsh served as a visiting scholar at Biola’s Center for Christian Thought in fall 2013. He is James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has a D.Phil. in theology from Oxford University. For information, visit brucehindmarsh.com.