Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, a period of 40 days preparing and culminating in Easter. It is a time of reflection, prayer, repentance, preparation, fasting and service. Mostly, it is an invitation to grow closer with Jesus, learning from Him as we walk in His footsteps.
For me, every year shines a little more awareness into how I enter into this season with God. Admittedly some years it flies right by, and I’ve squandered yet another Lent season to deepen my relationship with God. Other years I am more attuned. One constant has remained a beautiful devotional book I bought about seven years ago, called Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.
The first essay I stumbled into was In Mirrors by Walter Wangerin, and it has stayed with me ever since. The image of the mirror, beckoning me every Lent season to return and look just a little closer. Here is how it opens:
“In mirrors I see myself. But in mirrors made of glass and silver I never see the whole of myself. I see the me I want to see, and I ignore the rest. Mirrors that hide nothing hurt me. They reveal an ugliness I’d rather deny. Yow! Avoid these mirrors of veracity!” (1)
Mirrors of veracity. When I first read that line, I thought, “so this is what I am getting into?” Ouch. But I was compelled to read on.
“Mirrors that hide nothing hurt me. But this is the hurt of purging and precious renewal—and these are the mirrors of dangerous grace.”
Wangerin goes on to show how these painful mirrors of truth are actually the very means of healing grace that we need. There is no other way. And the ultimate mirror is the person of Jesus Christ on the cross - the Mirror that simultaneously reflects the depths and multitudes of our sin and brokenness, as well as our loving healing redemption.
The courage to look and see what we would rather not see in ourselves is a simple yet monumental act.
This is the same idea we see in so many stories which is the death of the self - the hero myth played out in the character who enters the symbolic dark forest, confronts an old wound or pain from her past, and emerges renewed and reborn. It is the moment we confront a thorny problem, and realize that all the fear and anxiety we had in anticipation now diminishes upon acting. It is when we realize we have said something petty and hurtful to someone we love, honestly face our fault, and seek to change.
Poet Mark Nepo connects this to the very act of being an artist, a term he attributes not to a special class of people, but to the type of person who sees the world in a special way.
“The role of the poet and the artist is to keep the world together. It is said that in ancient times souls intent on living would reach deep into their wound and bring the fire living there into the light. Then, they would wrestle with it and forge it into a tool that would help us live. In this way, when we do authentic inner work, we’re forging tools for others to use. And just as the body needs healthy cells to stay alive, the Universe needs healthy souls to keep going.” (2)
This invitation to wrestle fiercely with our fears, our pains, our honest faults, bringing them to the mirror, is also to invite the light and love of Jesus to meet us, heal us and transform us.
The season of Lent is an opportunity to embark again on this road.
What is needed to undertake this perilous journey? Lest we think we need to conjure up something supernaturally heroic in ourselves, perhaps all we need is a collective sigh of relief, a letting go, and a reminder that we are all in this together. An openness that allows this work to be done to us, in and through the gracious smile of God.
1) Read In Mirrors by Walter Wangerin in full here.
2) From Drinking from the River of Light by Mark Nepo, p 44.
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