Sometimes we need a new perspective. We can get stuck living our lives without really living them. Just going with the flow, accepting the status quo whether it’s a healthy one or not. As Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
But from what perspective should we examine our lives?
Consider these words from William Temple, who was Archbishop of Canterbury during WW II:
John [the Baptist] came, and after him Jesus came, saying, “Change your way of looking at life; the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” But we have lowered the term, “repentance” into meaning something not very different from remorse…Repentance does not mean merely giving up a bad habit. What it is concerned with is the mind; get a new mind. What mind?… To repent is to adopt God’s viewpoint in place of your own. There need not be any sorrow about it. In itself, far from being sorrowful, it is the most joyful thing in the world, because when you have done it you have adopted the viewpoint of truth itself, and you are in fellowship with God. (Christian Faith & Life, p. 67)
Lent is about repentance, trying to be in fellowship with God by adopting God’s viewpoint, God’s perspective as our own. Often we go about this with the best of intentions. I think of the practice of giving something up for Lent. Fasting can be a very helpful discipline. However, as a child, my experience was not very deep. Give up chocolate. I would fail at it like one does new year’s resolutions. And that’s it. But the discipline of Fasting can help you deny something in order to live better, to see from God’s viewpoint what we really need.
Can we wake up in the morning and say, today I am getting the mind of God or can we in some way acquire it easily… No, but we start with repentance and how Scripture call us to do just that in our lives.
Think of the reading from Joel…
“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…”
The prophet Joel calls Israel to return to God with all their heart, for they had followed other Gods, they had not practiced justice and mercy with the poor, the widow and the orphan stranger in the land and God was not pleased.
For Joel, it begins in our heart (which was the place of intellect and not just emotion as we think of it today) and like William Temple, he called the people to repent and to adopt God’s perspective in their heart. To turn to the Lord and not trust in another God or other people, but through fasting, weeping and mourning to come back to the place where God is.
St Paul in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians said, “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Such is the work of Lent, being reconciled with God.
In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us not to practice our piety, our faith before others. But to give alms for those in need, to pray and to fast. Not so we are seen by what we do, but that we put ourselves right with God. Storing treasure in heaven not on earth, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. From God’s perspective, Lent is about righting our relationship with God and each other (2 Greatest Commandments!) and we need Lent to pause and consider our Spiritual lives in those relationships. As Evelyn Underhill wrote:
“Lent is a good moment for such a spiritual stocktaking; a pause, a retreat from life’s busy surface to its solemn deeps. There we can consider our possessions; and discriminate between the necessary stores which have been issued to us, and must be treasured and kept in good order, and the odds and ends which we have accumulated for ourselves. Most of us are inclined to pay considerable attention to the spiritual odds and ends; the air-cushions, tabloids, and vacuum flasks, and various labor-saving devices which we call by such attractive names as our own peace, our own approach, our own experience, and so forth.
But we leave the superb and massive standard equipment which is issued to each baptized Christian to look after itself. There are few who cannot benefit by a bit-by-bit examination of that equipment, a humble return to first principles; for there we find the map and road-book of that spiritual world which is our true environment, all the needed information about the laws which control it, and all the essentials for feeding that inner life of which we talk so much and understand so very little.” (School of Charity)
Lent is about using our spiritual disciplines, like fasting, praying, giving alms, and study for such self-examination and repentance can lead our heart and mind to God. It’s not whether we succeed or fail or give up. It is about changing the way we look at our life. Hear the words again of William Temple:
“Repentance does not mean merely giving up a bad habit. What it is concerned with is the mind; get a new mind. To repent is to adopt God’s viewpoint in place of your own. In itself, far from being sorrowful, it is the most joyful thing in the world, because when you have done it you have adopted the viewpoint of truth itself, and you are in fellowship with God.”
May we find that at the end of our Lenten journey, we have moved toward a greater fellowship with God and that we have a new perspective on our life. Amen.