Friday, April 16, 2010

lenten loneliness

Confession: I have practiced a lenten fast for several years now, and it has rarely meant a lot to me, at least not on any spiritual level. Lacking sweets or caffeine or whatnot generally doesn't remind me of Jesus or his suffering much. The year I gave up TV in a house that constantly had it on may have been the most effective fast in previous years, simply because it opened my eyes to the vast amount of time I actually have, and how much peaceful I am when I spend it on fruitful things. Still, not much to knit my story with Christ's.

This year, for the first time, my lenten fast felt connected to the story of the passion. I gave up Facebook, which those who use it daily will understand to be a challenging task. That, honestly, is why I took a friend's suggestion to leave it behind for 40 days-- because I knew it would hurt a little. But I had chosen other fasts for the same reason in years past, and as I mentioned, they did little to connect me to Jesus' walk toward Jerusalem, his journey toward death and then life. Little did I know, Facebook would break that pattern.

At random (I am reading the One Year Bible this year), I read through the passion narrative just before Lent began. One thing stood out to me as I read the story, something that had not struck me so deeply before. It was the deep loneliness and sadness of Christ as he prays in the garden and walks through the events leading up to his death. Weeping in the garden, asking God to choose some other way, he returns again and again to find that his closest friends can't stay awake to pray for him. Then moments after the mob arrives to take him, each of those who had walked closely with him--those who had been his friends--turn tail and run. They leave him standing there, and he walks through the most horrific of nights alone. The next day, as he breathes his last on the cross, he cries out in agony as even his Father seems to have abandoned him. Such loneliness. I imagine that Jesus' life had been growing in estrangement for many days before that night in the garden. As he moved forward in ministry, speaking subversive and often divisive words, and predicting an ending that no one seemed to grasp, Jesus sense of aloneness must have been acute.

I realized something during those days when I wanted to so much to log on to my account, and had to choose not to. I became aware of the role that Facebook often plays in my life--it is a salve for loneliness, a false fix when I feel estranged and disconnected. It opens the door, on a shallow level, to be instantly connected to the goings on of people in my life. I can even stop and make a comment, verbally jumping into a story in which I might normally play no part. My lenten time of staying away from that vehicle of connection (save for a few times on the road, since I had to connect with places to sleep...) forced me to sit with my aloneness, with my estrangement, and consider the far greater loneliness of Jesus. Again and again throughout those weeks, I was called back to look in on that place in the garden where he wept, on the trials and flogging where his only company was those who hated him. For the sake of my salvation, out of sheer love, Christ chose to walk a path of loneliness. He felt it just as any other human does, and yet he chose the path of estrangement anyway.

As I return to Facebook, Easter having come and gone, I am called to remember another thing. Facebook doesn't need to be the salve for my estrangement when loneliness strikes. I am called to remember that the effect of Christ's loneliness is my reconciliation. It is an intimate connection with the One who created me, and who is always with me. I pray that I will learn to enjoy tools that connect me with my friends, yet refuse to bank all my hopes on false fixes. The Christ of Lent, the resurrected One of Easter...he is to be the salve for all my broken places.

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