Lent: Forty Days to Perfect the Art of Turning
The art of turning that is involved in Lent is life-changing and soul-forming
Lent is a season of grace, given to us by the Church, to perfect the art of turning. But not any kind of turning; rather, a very particular kind of turning. When we turn, we turn to Jesus, and Jesus becomes our Way
The art of turning that the Church has in mind during Lent is not the turning mentioned by the prophet Isaiah (53:6)--"All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way." This is autonomy, a state which leads to the "Kingdom of Whatever" as Brad S. Gregory put it in his book The Unintended Reformation.
The turning the Church has in mind is a turning from a false autonomy, where each goes his own way, to what Blessed John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis splendor called participated theonomy, where there is one body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all in all. (Cf. Eph. 4:4-6)
We are called, not to turn astray, but to turn from turning astray. We are called, in the words of St. John the Baptist, to make straight the way of the Lord, to prepare for the victory of God. (Cf. John 1:23; Isaiah 40:3) It is a decidedly evangelical turning. We are called to turn so as to be straight so that we may encounter the Kingdom of God, which is Jesus himself, and which is inextricably tied to His Body, the Church. It is this way--to be in the Way--that we achieve victory over sin and over death.
The Anglo-Catholic writer, Evelyn Underhill, once wrote to one of her correspondents regarding Lent. Her advice was intended to get to the heart of Lenten practice. "Practice more diligently the art of turning to God," she wrote. The rest is details. These few words express the central core of Lenten practice.
The art of turning to God is the art of turning straight because we move from being gyrovagues--vagrants without purpose, each of us going their his or her own way, the broad way, each doing his or her own thing--to being fellow pilgrims: travelers together on the narrow way, a way with purpose and with a common goal: communion with God. God--the one and only God, and not a god of our own devices--becomes the bourne of our life's pilgrimage, the destination or telos of the journey of our life.
More precisely, when we turn, we turn to Jesus, and Jesus becomes our Way. We are called to turn our hearts and minds to Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. (Cf. Heb. 3:1)
We must not think that the art of turning to the Lord is an art without grace. Indeed, a turning without grace is not turning at all. Without grace, we are left hopeless, a hopelessness depicted in the words of T. S. Eliot's poem "Ash Wednesday":
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn . . . .
Without God's grace, we have no hope of turning again in the sense the Church proposes. The Church does not propose that we ourselves "construct something," a tower of Babel, an idol of human hands.
The turning that is involved in Lent is not the sort of shallow, often superficial turning we have, for example, when we make New Year's resolutions. The Lenten art of turning is not a seizure of foolish Pelagian optimism, a salvation by works, a pulling up by one's own boostraps. No.
The art of turning that is involved in Lent is life-changing and soul-forming; it is an event that includes both nature and supernatural grace. Since the Lenten turning is something more than mere human resolve, it is a turning that requires God's grace, God's help. It is a joint venture, with God pretty much doing all the giving, and we pretty much doing all the receiving.
This sort of cooperation between man and God necessary for the art of Lenten turning is well-put in some of the translations of Lamentations 5:21: "Turn you us unto you, O Lord, and we shall be turned."
This biblical verse is chock full of turning. We pray to be turned. We pray God, whose property is always to have mercy, turns to us, and then we pray that the God who has turned, turns us then unto Himself. To everything: turn, turn, turn. There is a season: turn, turn, turn. This is Lent.
This Lenten turning is converting, a word that comes to us from Latin convertere, to turn around, and which is formed from the prefix com (meaning together) and vertere (to turn). Man turns--not by himself--but to God, with God, for God, by God, and in God.
Because God is a partner in the Lenten turning, there is always a "perhaps" in grace. This "perhaps" comes from the utter gratuity--the unexpectedness, the ...
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