Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. –Leviticus 19:2
Lent is a complex season. On Ash Wednesday, the liturgy reminds us of the custom of the Church to prepare for the days of the Lord’s passion and resurrection by a season of penitence and fasting. As we approach Holy Week, the Eucharistic Prayer instructs us to cleanse our hearts and prepare with joy for the Paschal feast. And the custom of “giving up” something for Lent, helps us turn away from distractions or frivolity and instead focus on prayer, medi- tation, and worship. Lent can be intense.
Some of us need Lent to be intense. Perhaps we are wrestling with a particular demon that requires the gravitas and discipline of Lent to tame. Maybe Lent is the excuse we need to slow down and focus on what is truly important. Perhaps this Lent we will find what we are looking for.
But Lent can also be a shallow excuse for self-flagellation. We wallow in our supposed sin and wickedness. We all sin, and we are all called to repentance, but we are also called to be forgiven … and accept that forgiveness. And isn’t the latter the hardest part?
Shame is a frequent topic in Ted Talks, earnest blogs, and confessional Insta stories. In all honesty, sometimes I wish some of us had more shame (you know who I am talking about …). But a lot of us – for reasons we know all to well but are too burdensome to enumerate here – shoulder a ton of shame. Our shame can depress us, hold us back, even define us. Popular shame and vulnerability guru (and Episcopalian!) Brene Brown once said, “Life is about daring greatly and being in the arena. When you walk up to that arena and you put your hand on the door, and you think, ‘I’m going in and I’m going to try this,’ shame is the gremlin who says, ‘Uh, uh. You’re not good enough. You never finished that MBA. Your wife left you. I know your dad really wasn’t in Luxembourg, he was in Sing Sing. I know those things that happened to you growing up. I know you don’t think that you’re pretty, smart, talented or power- ful enough. I know your dad never paid attention, even when you made CFO.’ Shame is that thing.”
In the Book of Leviticus, the Lord speaks to Moses and says, “speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy.” Not you could be holy, not you should be holy, not some of you – if you play your cards right – will end up being holy, but you (yes you! and you too!) are holy. You were made to be holy. When you entered this world, you were holy. When you did that unfortunate thing in the fifth grade, you were holy. When you cussed out that other parent in the car pool line, you were holy. And right now, you are still holy. You may not feel holy, you may not act holy, and you may need some improvement in your level of holiness, but you are holy. And you can rest and find peace in your holiness. And there, God will abide with you.
Lent doesn’t need to be so complex. Find time to hang out with God. Take some of your shame and give it to him. Learn to love your holiness instead. And therein, your Lenten journey has turned from crippling complexity and intensity, to affirming productivity. The world needs more holy and the world needs you to be holy. All you have to do is accept who you are: holy.
LEVITICUS 19: 11-18; MATTHEW 25: 31 – 46; PSALM 19: 7-14