The Saturday Post: Lent as Holy Spirit Rehab Center

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They try to make me go to rehab, but I say, “No! No! No!”

A few years back, this short refrain took the country by storm. It came from a song by the late Amy Winehouse. Unfortunately, the song tells something of the short biography of her life. She died last summer from substance abuse. Something about that song, Rehab, touched a deep nerve.

They try to make me go to rehab, but I say, “No! No! No!”

We do not want to change. No, we do want to change. We don’t want to do what it takes to change. I’m guilty. Are you? I need rehab. I’m not talking about rehab in the 28 day sense.  I’m talking about rehab in the 40 day sense and all the richness that this number implies. That’s precisely what the desert of Lent is about. 40 days of intensive rehabilitation. We fast. We pray. We give.  We covenant together as a people for an intensive period to “dry out,” to renounce the impetuous indulgence of our insatiable appetites.  Together, surrounded by sackcloth with ashes on our foreheads we enter the Spirit’s treatment facility known as the desert.  Jesus leads us into the Lenten theatre of the Holy War against sin in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We enter in to face the tripartite enemies of the soul:  the world, the flesh and the devil and to confront them in the full armor of God, in the Trinitarian energy of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus enters the desert because he knows we human beings are slaves to sin and that we are prone to spend 40 years of our life lost and wandering craving anything that promises comfort and security. The rehabilitation of Lent, the treatment facility of the desert designs to wean us from the brokenness and laziness of our own spirit which incessantly attempts to turn stones into bread, which constantly puts God to the test and which will readily forfeit our own soul in order to live a secret life in Egypt and gain the whole world (i.e.  worships Satan).  The treatment facility of the desert designs to wean us from the indulgent immature laziness and brokenness of our own spirit and restore in us the very life and breath of God, remaking us in the  strong, beautiful, loving, meek, merciful, pure hearted, peacemaking, persecuted and yet unquenchable image of Jesus Christ.

But there is a subtle deception waiting for us in the desert.  We easily become deceived into making the world, the flesh and the devil our focus.  We focus on what is wrong with us and Lent becomes a darkly introspective narcissistic quest to get fixed.  Intensive introspection cunningly plays into the maintenance of what Thomas Merton in his writings called the false self.  Worse yet, we get tricked into making religion and religious practice and piety our focus.  We are ever talking about what we are fasting from and how much we want it and how hard it is and how we can’t wait for it to be over.  Here’s another way we miss it.  We launch into a way of fasting and praying as though we were pushing and pulling the levers of heaven, putting God to some kind of test. Intensive religion plays into the hands of the flesh in perhaps the most deceptive way of all, drugging the false self with religion. Then there’s the devil. Perhaps the devil’s greatest deception is to convince us that he is everywhere and behind everything that goes wrong.  This deception has a way of blinding us to the unlikely places and unexpected ways that he does present himself. Matthew seems careful to point out that Satan shows up with his tricks only at the end of the 40 days. The focus of spiritual warfare is not on the devil but on the Spirit and the Word of God.

The proper focus of Lent, the Spirit’s strategy for the treatment center of the desert is to cause us to behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, with every ounce of our personhood and every iota of our attention.  We must get our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.  Every word he speaks, every move he makes, every encounter he engages, every person he touches, every step he takes, every prayer he utters –all filled and running over with the wisdom of God. I think the entire paradigm of being and doing is worn out and tired.  It sounds good, but what does it really mean.  It’s quite existentially bound in the human experience.  I think it is a false dichotomy.  I’m making a switch.  I’m trading in the notion of being and doing for the movement of beholding and becoming.  It takes the focus off of human initiative and activity and focuses us on God’s initiative and activity.  Beholding and becoming happen simultaneously as the fusion of contemplation and action, for what one beholds one becomes.  Being and doing are two things.  Beholding and becoming are one thing—one thing I ask of the Lord, one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.

The most fascinating lyrics in Winehouse’s song are these,

“I don’t ever want to drink again. I just, ooh, I just need a friend.”

The friend of our soul waits.

J.D. Walt is Seedbed’s Sower-in-Chief. He blogs at jdwalt.com

 

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