Monthly Archives: February 2011


Lent is right around the corner.  Let me offer a few scattered seeds for beginning a reflection on the importance of Lent.


  1. Lent is a specifically Christian reality, a certain period of the year that is connected to Baptism.  It was originally a period of preparation for Baptism.  Later it became a paradigm of the Christian monastic journey.  But how is this so?  Is it in that popular Lenten exhortation to “give something up for Lent?”–monastic life seems in the popular imagination, even of monks, to be characterized by “giving things up.”  But what’s the point of “giving things up?”  And what does that have to do with our Baptism?


  1. In a comparative religions context, Lent might seem  something like a Zen sesshin–a period of intensification of practice.  This is a superficial resemblance.  A certain kind of intensification may be a part of the dynamic of Lent, but it is hardly the heart of it.


  1. More than any intensification, more than any “giving up,” Lent is all about remembrance. Everything else is built on this foundation.  It has enormous implications.  According to the Bible we are creatures who journey from forgetfulness to remembrance.  The whole Old Testament resounds and echoes with the call: “Remember…..”   Remember what?  Remember who you are; remember where you came from.  Remember who it is whom you call “God.”  Etc.


  1. In Plato’s writings there is a very important word, anamnesis, which roughly translates as “remembering.”  For Plato, the essence of knowledge, the most fundamental kind of knowledge was more a kind of remembering than a bringing in “from the outside” something new.  In other words we have everything within us that we need to know–it is just that we have forgotten this, and so there is needed some kind of process to be healed of this forgetfullness and live in remembrance and so fully.


  1. There are two kinds of remembering.  One is what is popularly considered as remembering.  You recall things from the past.  The reality is a past reality–you merely have a kind of mental image of it and a psychologicl/emotional evocation of that past event/person,etc.  This is not quite the “anamnesis” of Lent, although that element should not be counted out either.  But there is another, less well-known aspect to remembering, “anamnesis.”  When we do this remembering we actually make present, make alive to our awareness that so-called past reality.  The celebration of Passover has a sense of both kinds of remembering.  But what is most important is that when the Jewish family celebrates Passover, it actually makes present to its awareness the actuality of that Freedom which Yahweh led them into and which is their gift then and there in that very celebration.    Needless to say those of us who are Catholics immediately think of the Eucharist.  This is almost totally the second kind of “remembering.”  Jesus does say in the Gospel: “Do this in memory of me.”  In a sense the difference in theological interpretation given to the Eucharist  by different Christian bodies has a lot  to do with what kind of “remembering” they think the Jesus intended.


  1. Another moment of remembering:  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23: 42).  These are the words of the thief nailed next to Jesus on the Cross.  And Jesus makes present the reality this poor man is seeking:  “This day you will be with me in Paradise.”  We are all that thief.


  1. Another moment of remembering:  On Ash Wednesday we are told:  “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”  The smudge on our forehead is a wonderful symbol of all that we call reality in our forgetful lives.  So we are summoned to remembrance.


  1. Remembrance is a critical part of repentance.  But here we must be careful about what we mean.  This remembrance is not a morbid and continual dwelling on whatever wrong we may have done.  Rather, like with the Jesus Prayer, we simply dwell within the mercy of the All-Merciful One, and we make no  distinctions between our personal wrongs and the wrongs of our neighbor.  As Father Zosima tells us in the Brothers Karamazov, we are one in this mysterious reality of sin.


  1. Idolatry is a form of forgetfulness of who God is.  Paradoxically it is religious people who are most prone to idolatry without even realizing it.  This is a problem of worshipping an image of God that we have constructed for ourselves.  The Church  is very prone to idolatry–thus it is summoned to repentance, to remembrance.  “Gather all the people before Me….”  It is an awesome thing to stand in the  Presence of the Mystery of the Living God.


  1. The work of Lent:  Remember who you are; remember who God is.  And thus you will remember mercy, compassion, freedom and peace.  This is the essential work of Lent.  Happy Lent to all.