Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Reflecting on Ash Wednesday (Jesus Corner)

My love of the Lenten season is well documented. It didn't occur to me until this year that this might seem odd.

I had forgotten that most people think of Lent as a time to put their heads down and feel really bad. "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return" gets transmuted into "Remember that you are a crappy, terrible person who should feel really bad about yourself for the next few weeks. In fact, go ahead and punish yourself while you're thinking about it and then you'll really feel bad about what a scum bag you are."

No, no, no. That is not the correct translation.

Lent is embracing the human condition and mourning it, all at once. We are remembering that Jesus has become man - He has become dust. His suffering, his affliction - it is something that makes him as human as any of us. God has become man and has given us dignity. The story is not over. Our "humanness" is going to be redeemed. The ashes of Ash Wednesday are placed in the shape of a cross on our foreheads... the ultimate symbol of God's redemption of humanness.

Lent is certainly about mourning our weakness - it should never be less than that. We are mourning the state of our individual hearts and the heart of humanity itself. We mourn that there is fallenness. But this shouldn't be reflection that leads to self-brutality. It's a reflection that shows us our dependency on God. Fasting and abstaining from various earthly comforts reminds us of our need for God.

And remember that Lent doesn't end with Good Friday - we are sustained by the hope we have in Easter. Today, I've been musing on the song "When Death Dies" by Gungor:

"Like an ocean buried and bursting forth...

When it comes flowers grow,
Lions sleep, gravestones roll...
When it comes poor men feast
Kings fall down to their knees

When death dies, all things live."

"Ghosts Upon the Earth" is a great album for the Lent/Easter season - it has a definite arc that mirrors the death/resurrection story

Think of what this means... Christ has come to kill death. He has solidarity with us in His suffering, but He can do what none of us can. He can kill the poisonous root of the problem.

As Christ has identified with us in his suffering and humanity, Lent is a time when we can, in some small way, identify with the process of death dying and what sacrifices were required to make that happen. It makes me think of Susan and Lucy walking with Aslan to the Stone Table, or the loaf of bread that Katniss receives from District 11. It is a symbol of identification and solidarity. It doesn't change the necessity of what has to be done, but it shows who we belong to and is a small act of gratitude for the sacrifice of another on our behalf.

This probably makes little sense. I find it really difficult to put into words why this season means so much to me. I guess the bottom line is that it reminds me that God is not shocked by my humanity. He is not so repulsed by it that he can have nothing to do with me. In fact, He has taken on humanness himself, both dignifying it and triumphing over it. I love remembering the awe of the incarnation and the awe of what it all leads to. "When death dies, all things live." Hallelujah

How do you think about Lent? Is it something that is a part of your liturgical year or is it not a part of your tradition?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Books Like Whoa: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Favorites Edition)

I wrote a paper on this, my most favored of novels, for school last week so I thought we should discuss as a group...

The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Procured from my high school in 12th grade

Procured in November 2004

Finished in November 23, 2004

Format: Trade paperback with a great cover (i.e. not the movie one)

Why I gave it a try:  I wanted to do well on the reading quiz for it

Summary: In 1956, aging butler, Mr. Stevens, hopes to secure the services of an erstwhile housekeeper at Darlington Hall for his new American employer. As he travels through the English countryside to meet her, he reflects on the events of the 1930s that led this housekeeper, Miss Kenton, to join the staff and how she eventually left. Ennui ensues. 

Thoughts: This is my favorite novel. Well, at least tied. Along with Jane Eyre, this is my favorite novel. I first read it at a particular angsty moment of teenage-dom, so the original emotional impact was greater than perhaps it would have been under different circumstances. But it has held up to multiple re-readings, plus it won the Man Booker Prize, so I'm not the only one who thinks it's fancy and awesome.

The core of my love for this book centers around the protagonist, Mr. Stevens. People. This poor man is J. Alfred Prufrock and Adrian Mole rolled into one pitiful concoction of self-delusion and unawareness. I never knew that the level of straight up empathy and pathos I feel for Stevens was possible to find in fictitious characters before I read The Remains of the Day. This was the first novel that truly took me outside of myself to inhabit a life experience so removed from my own.

I also love how Ishiguro combines the diary form with an unaware narrator to comedic and poignant affect. As Stevens documents his physical and metaphorical journey in his journal, we see his lack of self-awareness in sharper and sharper focus. This makes the epiphany of self-understanding at the end of the novel more satisfying and "real," because we've seen his process to get to that point. 

More than anything, this book represents a lot of my own personal baggage around individual moral agency, the meaning of work in our lives, and the process of moving towards wisdom. It's a book that makes me weep, laugh, and think deeply, and it accomplishes more and more in my heart with each re-reading. 


7 - I will have to seriously reevaluate any friendship or romantic interest that does not like this book: a favorite 

Do you have a favorite novel? What makes it stand the test of time for you?