Lenten Images: Darkness, Wilderness, Ashes

“I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness.” ~T.S. Eliot


The primary images of Lent–these forty days of preparation for Easter–are not popular, marketable images: the darkness, the wilderness, the ashes. “From dust you have come; to dust you shall return.” Not a quote you’re likely to find on a Hallmark card.

And yet it is the darkness, the wilderness, the ashes, that can separate us from who we think we are so that we can realize our true identity in Christ. It is the darkness, the wilderness, the ashes, that can wrench us away from the things we think we want so that we can embrace what we truly need.

We often enter into the darkness, the wilderness, we often accept the ashes by taking on new spiritual disciplines; by giving up some of our comforts and crutches. I’ve seen a bit of a backlash against these types of practices this year. Claims that our sacrifices of chocolate or alcohol are not in the same league as Jesus’ sacrifice. Which is true. Claims that we give up the easy stuff but cling to the real sin in our lives. Which, I’m sure, is true.

But the point isn’t to martyr ourselves. The point isn’t even to make ourselves better, more spiritual people.

The point is to make space. And sometimes it just takes a little. A little space in time, a little space in your stomach, a little space in your routine . . . The Holy Spirit blows where it will, and it can flow right into that tiny little space.

I’m trusting the Spirit’s ability to squeeze through small cracks. I’m giving up lunch dessert for Lent. I know that lunch dessert is a very small thing. Still, it’s a thing. A thing I’m used to. A thing that’s almost automatic. And a thing I miss–more than a person should reasonably miss a bit of sugar after an already satisfying meal.

This practice will not take me into a complete darkness, into a a dense wilderness. It will not cover me with ashes. Not by a long shot. It’s simply a dimness. A blip. An ashy smudge.

But it’s what I can do this year. It’s the space I have the energy to make. And I trust it is space enough to receive the gracious gifts that God will offer.

What about you? What space are you opening up in your Lenten life?


2 thoughts on “Lenten Images: Darkness, Wilderness, Ashes

  1. I’m trying really hard to give up “bad words.” My husb. throws ’em around like discarded dirty clothes. I have tried various methods over the yrs. to break him but to no avail. Joining him also proved futile & fruitless…. But I was not happy w/ myself either…. So I want to use my words more wisely….

    • Dawn, prayers are with you in your Lenten endeavor. Our habits of speech can be very powerful. I commend your efforts to be more mindful in this area.

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