As we near the final two weeks of Lent, Sacred Space continues to lead us in a series of reflections about this season. Here, first-year Master of Divinity student Alex Mrakovich writes about the empty promise of busyness and the challenge of resting in the wilderness and waiting for resurrection.
I’ve always felt the pressure to work, the pressure to build my identity around having little time to spare. To be stressed and anxiety-ridden is simply a means to feel the weight of accomplishment. “Busy hands are happy hands,” my father always told me. Despite his stake in the claim for happiness that busyness always promised, his face wears the wrinkles of apprehension and fear. Instead of slowing down to name his anxiety, he has always kept going with his nose to the grindstone—the proper Midwestern work ethic.
I grieve that reality, and yet I am just as caught up in the chaos that life can quickly turn into. I often fear that I’m heading down the same path; my sense of identity and self-esteem swells to such great heights when I tell someone how busy I am. We live in a culture where badges of merit are given to those with the least amount of time available. Somehow we have come to regard busyness as a prized possession, a pearl of great price. As a result, our sense of identity is swept up in a swift current of frenzy and toil.
Lent is a strange season. Ashes on foreheads, 40-day fasts, liturgical confessions entrenched in the 10 Commandments—what planet did these originate on? I remember in high school giving up what I considered “secular music” for Lent. I forced myself to go to the local Christian bookstore and purchase CDs that resembled the artists I typically listened to. There was a sign that said, “If you like Radiohead or Coldplay then check out…” Needless to say I missed Radiohead that Lent, but at least I was doing something for God, right? Is this what Lent is for? In the sea of anxiety that most of us find ourselves swimming in, is substituting poor music for good music helpful? Is this some kind of round two for failed New Year’s resolutions when we couldn’t quite make the leap of faith from coffee to loose leaf tea?
Lent may be a perplexing season for some folks, but in many ways it is a season that confronts the stress-induced lives that we seek to manage and control. Lent forces us to slow down and pay attention to our lives. It requires us to stop and listen to the anxiety, to the stress that contends for our sense of identity, purpose, and personhood. Lent drives us into the wild, the desolate places of our heart where we feel the most weary and lost.
We often think of the wilderness as an inhospitable place, a rocky terrain of scorched earth where no fruit ever grows. But there’s something of the desert that reminds us of our mortality, our sense of being out of control, and our dependence on water, food, shelter, and community. The wilderness is a quiet place, and we are forced to listen to the aches and creaky joints of our lives. We are invited to slow down in order to grieve and lament the stories of violence and heartache in which we have colluded and of which we have been victims.
Bob Dylan hauntingly sings: “Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” The act of slowing down is painful. We begin to hear the stories of death that seem to surround us like a howling wind. It feels unnatural and it goes against every fiber of our being to do so. Lent reminds us of the futility of attempting to cover up our apprehension and fear. It is only in the open and honest road of grief and lament that we are led to Resurrection Sunday. Let us never quicken our pace to Easter, but let us linger in the wild spaces that drown out the loud voices of anxiety. It’s only in this space that those voices grow faint and we are reminded that we are a beloved child of God.