Is This What Lent Feels Like?

Today’s daily readings sunk into my belly like molten lead. The Psalmist has that kind of wild-eyed desperation as he cries, “Make haste to save me, oh God!” But God and haste don’t usually go well together. And later, “…I’ve become a portent to others.” Portent. Are you familiar with the word? I wasn’t. I looked it up. It means an ominous sign of calamity.

I feel that.

In this season of disorientation and lament, I feel as though a sign should be hung around my neck. A sign similar to the ones on the back of dump trucks: “Keep back 500 feet. Not responsible for broken windshields.” Of course you can’t read this until you’re 50 feet away and the truck hits a bump and you see a line of loose gravel fall off the bumper and hit the asphalt at 55 miles per hour. One bounce. Two bounces. Crack.

Is this what Lent feels like?

In the spiritual disciplines I partake of—Scripture reading, prayer, lectio divina, silence—I usually find a lightness of heart. A lifting of spirit. A filling of grace. A partaking of the divine love of Christ. And it’s marvelous.

Most of the time.

But this season…this season I’ve reached a limit. I’ve hit a wall. I’m seeing where the Spirit is pointing and I’m working feverishly to avoid eye contact.

What is He wanting?

I remember when Peter protested Jesus’ awkward offer to wash the disciples’ feet. Jesus, standing there in his undergarments, at dinner, with a towel wrapped around His waist, poured water into a basin. And without commentary or proclamation, he knelt down before the twelve dusty and dirty men and began washing their feet.

I have a problem with this.

It’s different than Peter’s problem. Peter challenged Jesus over His embarrassing “servant-leader” posture. Peter thought Jesus was beneath this God-washing-men’s-feet scandal. But, I challenge it simply because I don’t like people touching my feet.

Not that I have bad feet. I don’t. They’re flip-flop worthy. But don’t look too close. In high school I wore bad shoes which caused an ingrown toenail to infect my left big toe. The pain was unbearable. The doctor eventually cut away the outside perimeter of the nail and put a chemical under the cuticle that killed the cells that stopped that portion of the nail from growing back.

Except it didn’t work. It eventually grew back. And so now I have a toenail that has a small sliver of separate nail that grows alongside it—seemingly fused to the other nail—but still separate. It’s weird. You probably wouldn’t notice it, but I do. And I wince every time I see it.

This is uncomfortable to read, isn’t it? I’ll keep going.

Odor, nail fungus, plantar warts, corns, bunions, blisters, deformed toes, and callouses are just a few of the embarrassing defects of our feet. So we wrap them in socks and put a layer of rubber and leather around them to keep them out of sight, out of mind.

And we bring all of this, all our bunions and callouses to Christ all buttoned up in shiny wing tips and Christ looks at our fancy shoes and points to the waxed brown laces and says, “I’m gonna wash your feet.”

And we respond in unison with Saint Peter, “Hell, no.”

This is what Lent feels like.

It’s Christ raising His arms in a mock taunt saying, “If you want part of this, if you want any of me, you have to let me wash you.”

And so we offer up the skin that’s already exposed. “Wash my arms. Wash my face. Wash the back of my neck. These are dirty enough.”

But Christ isn’t interested in what has already been exposed to sunlight and fresh air. He calls for the hidden and grotesque, the painful and the deformed.

He wants the limp.

And so we bend down, embarrassed, to untie our shoes. And we hesitantly allow a God incarnate, clothed in his undergarments, with a towel around his waist, to bend down beneath us and touch and hold and cradle and caress our cracked and unlovely parts.

This is what Lent feels like.

Christ invites us to become comfortable with a God who is comfortable with our feet. He is not put off by us or our hidden things. He sees through our posturing and pretense. He looks past the sin to see our brokenness. And in seeing it, He invites us to see it, too. He invites us to gaze upon the reality of our condition. He invites us to awaken to the fact that we are fully known.

And in being fully known, we are not cast out. In being fully known we are not discarded. In being fully known we are not rejected. Rather, in this awkward act of vulnerability we allow the loving hands of Christ to touch us where we most long—and most fear—to be touched.

Lent is the process of Christ pointing down and saying, “I’m going to wash your feet,” and us learning to respond with, “yes, Lord.”

If I could walk you through a simple meditation it would be centered upon this image of Jesus, in his undergarments, with an towel wrapped around His waist, kneeling before you with a bowl of water at his side. He looks up to you and points down towards your feet. See Him and hold this image for a moment before reading on.

Are you feeling a pang of anxiety?
What are you afraid He will see? Mark this thought before continuing to read.

Now, pay attention to the emotions that rise up as you see yourself bending to untie your shoes and remove them one by one. Next, you peel off your socks, fully exposing your feet to Christ.

In this next movement, please invite the Holy Spirit to direct your imagination.

If Christ was truly a man of sorrows, acquainted with pain and grief, able to empathize with us in every experience, then ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how Christ reacts when He sees your innermost darkness and woundedness.

See Him tenderly pick up your foot and hold it with care. Slowly running His hand over your bumps, bunions, and broken bones. He doesn’t look away in shame or disgust, but rather He looks with compassion.

I would love it if you would allow Him to speak something to you. It may be worth meditating on to see what the Holy Spirit breathes into your heart in this intimate and vulnerable moment.

For me—and this is just for me—I can hear Jesus singing a song over my dark places the way a grandmother sings under her breath as she rests on the front porch at sundown. I can’t quite make out the words as He mouths the lyrics, but the gentle melody is awash with death and resurrection.

This is what Lent feels like.

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