This is my seventeenth Lent as an Orthodox Christian -- which means I have now been Orthodox for longer than I was not Orthodox. But this is the first year I have really looked forward to Lent. I know I need it. My life feels out of balance, drifting, directionless, turned inward. I crave the peace that comes from humility, that only the most focused, demanding spirituality can provide. I think of Saydeh's words: "Lent is a joy." Yes.
Last week I rediscovered the Audio Bible I bought for Rob years ago. I decided to start it from the beginning. At first I found Jon Sherberg's voice uncannily dramatic, distracting. But after the first handful of chapters, I didn't hear his voice at all -- just the stories. Wow. It's been decades since I heard some of them, and it's as if I'm hearing them for the first time. They floated back to me in clumps as we sang the Canon of St. Andrew last week:
- I have rivaled in transgression Adam the first-formed man, and I have found myself stripped naked of God, of the eternal Kingdom and its joy, because of my sins.
- The Lord once rained down fire from heaven and consumed the land of Sodom. O my soul, flee like Lot to the mountain, and take refuge in Zoar before it is too late.
- Leah is action, for she had many children; and Rachel is knowledge, for she endured great toil. For without toil, O my soul, neither action nor contemplation will succeed.
- Once Joseph was cast into a pit, O Lord and Master, as a figure of Thy Burial and Resurrection. But what offering such as this shall I ever make to Thee?
- David, the forefather of God, once sinned doubly, pierced with the arrow of adultery and the spear of murder. But thou, my soul, art more gravely sick than he, for worse than any acts are the impulses of thy will.
- I have put before thee, my soul, Moses' account of the creation of the world, and after that all the recognized Scriptures that tell thee the story of the righteous and the wicked. But thou, my soul, hast followed the second of these, not the first, and hast sinned against God.
About halfway through the 90-minute service on Tuesday, I finally started to pray, really pray. And just then, I caught the eye of a tiny baby who was nestled in a blanket on the floor, on the other side of the wooden lectern where my music rested. As I bowed and reached for the floor with my fingertips, she gave me the full-body smile only a baby can deliver, and I had to smile back. There is joy, too, even in the midst of repentance. Maybe the repentance is what brings the joy in the first place.