Lent can, and should be, a season of transformation. It bridges the turn on the calendar from winter to spring and it can bridge the turn in us from the wilderness of self-sufficiency to reliance on God. Along the way, however, we may feel things get a little twisted.
The scripture readings that launched us into the season of Lent this year remind us of two important things. First, it’s important to give God our first fruits (Deuteronomy 26:1-11). You may be used to thinking about tithing as a financial decision, but it works out that Lent is about one-tenth of a year! (Technically, forty days out of 365 is 11%, but you get the idea.) Second, Jesus once spent forty days in the wilderness facing temptation and exploring his identity (Luke 4:1-13). He was tempted to go at it alone, but each time he chose the mutuality and relationship of the Trinity instead.
Lent is a time I can set apart to think about who I am and whose I am.
Frederick Buechner (one of my favorites!) wrote these questions I’m using to guide my reflections this Lenten season:
- If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?
- When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?
- If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in 25 words or less?
- Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?
- Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?
- If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?
“To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.”
In other words, we know Easter is coming but in the meantime Lent can leave us feeling a little twisted up.
That’s okay! If you feel like a pretzel, you’re in good company. Pretzels were invented during Lent.
Devout church-goers back in the day wanted to make something with only water, flour, and salt. These modest ingredients were all they could use during Lent because eggs, butter, and milk were deemed too indulgent for a time of focused repentance and sacrifice.
Those brilliant bakers came up with the pretzel!
One theory about the shape of the pretzel is that it reflects a way of praying. If you put your right hand on your left shoulder, and your left hand on your right shoulder, with your arms crossed in front of you, you’ve not only made yourself look like a pretzel, you’ve also taken on a historically prayerful posture. This precious girl from Saints Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Church (unknowingly) demonstrates what I mean:
The pretzel is a great metaphor for Lent because in our lives as faithful folks, we will sometimes feel twisted up—the wilderness will do that to you; those Buechner questions will do that to you. When that happens and we feel like a pretzel, we can remember how the pretzel resembles a position of prayer. When we feel twisted up inside, there’s no better posture to take than a prayerful one!
I hope this Lent will be a time when God un-knots some of what’s got me twisted up like a pretzel. Lent is like a tithe of time, a tithe of my year, to explore who God is and what that means to me personally. May the Lord turn me from the wilderness of self-sufficiency to relationship.
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