Over the years since my husband’s death, I slowly recover pieces of who I was before he died. I remember things. I have impulses and thoughts that almost feel like déjà vu rather than natural behavior for me. Nearly five years since he died, I can say with complete, undeniable truth that I was completely changed when he died. I was changed in the essence of my being, not just with the sadness of loss or with heartbreak but by something molecular. My outlook changed. My world changed. Although you may not see this with the naked eye, I am completely changed.
In my faith tradition, we are in a time frame, a season, called Lent. Lent is the time proceeding Easter when we consider and prepare for the resurrection of Jesus. When I was a child, we practiced sacrifice during Lent – we gave up something we loved – sweets, beating up on my little brother, maybe even cussing as I got older. We denied ourselves something to bring us closer to God. As an adult, during my theology studies as I became a youth minister, I was introduced to the Rite of Christian Initiation. This is the process for people who want to join or fulfill their commitment to my faith tradition. The process takes time. It begins in Fall, sometimes in summer, with people inquiring about the faith and investigating it and their feelings or interest in it. It progresses throughout the year with different rituals, education and soul searching for those involved to see if this is what they want…if this is where they find God and want to live out their commitment to God.
In this process, this time of Lent is given an added title for these people. Those who are coming into the church enter a very holy time during Lent. It is the time of Purification and Enlightenment for them. It is their final preparation for baptism or full communion in/with our church on Easter at our Easter Vigil. Learning about this process for Christian initiation changed my thinking toward Lent…well, evolved it at least. A time of purification and enlightenment, hmmm, how had this been a time for purification and enlightenment for me? Is it one? How would I approach this season of Lent differently now that I know this?
Now this was well over a decade ago that I learned this. I have worked for church in this time frame and been touched by communities that are truly initiating. I have lived Lent differently ever since. This time of purification and enlightenment should really rock us to our core. It should help us to change and move toward God in the essence of our being – in its ideal practice. Since Dave died, for many years I said I was living Lent all year long…but this was the Lent of my youth…the one filled with sacrifice. I really didn’t care if I was coming closer to God or not…why would I? God let my husband die. Every Lent since his death, I am moved by the loss…well maybe the death we see during this time. The readings we hear vary through cycles, but ultimately we all hear about Jesus dying…and eventually rising. It is the cycle Christians believe in…the fullness of life we say…death and resurrection the Paschal Mystery.
Every year since Dave’s death has been different. Some years I’ve tried to ignore it…I don’t feel like being purified or enlightened. Other years I have checked in and out, but most years, I never can escape it completely. I think it is because I know how truly holy and special this time of year is in our church. It is life changing watching those who have chosen this church become baptized…there is something so powerful in their eyes. Something has changed their essence. Something has altered them on a nearly molecular level…like my grief has changed me. If I dare to guess what it is or how it is God changes them…I would say it is hope. Hope in so many ways…hope in God, community, faith, love and all those things that we say in church. It may also be in the hope of human daily behavior…that we will love more, live more and be present more fully to our life that we have been given.
Every year I hope. Every day really I hope that my heart will mend and I will be able to risk being happy again. I hope, like those coming into my faith tradition, that I will be changed forever for the good. Some days I feel the change, many days I don’t. Many days, I feel the drudgery of routine, loneliness and struggling to survive. I don’t want to risk. I don’t want to take a leap of faith like those who commit themselves to faith do. I just don’t want to be hurt or disappointed again. I have faced the worst thing I ever thought could happen…I have lost my love…my husband….my person who made life more complete for me. I have lost that feeling of being loved.
So this year during Lent I am doing something different than I’ve done in recent years. I am remembering purification and enlightenment. I am remembering that all things are possible with God…even a God who let my husband die. I am risking. I am taking a risk to let myself be moved toward love with all the hurt and disappointment that may come with it. I am opening my heart to be changed. I will live the process and take time and do my part to be changed in the core of my being again…and maybe this time it will be joy that emerges. Maybe this time when I risk to be loved, to believe again, to be open again, maybe this time, my heart will be changed, not with sadness and pain, but with purification and enlightenment, with joy, happiness and hope. Perhaps, I will be blessed with a heart that risks again and a heart that is new again…forever changed, but this time, a new creation of love and hope.