Ecstasy and Agony

By Ken Sehested

Lent is when the ecstasy and the agony of life collide.

Monday, 28 February, was the next-to-last-day of Mardi Gras, celebrated in the US along the Gulf Coast, New Orleans being its epicenter.

As the sun was going down in New Orleans, the eve of “Fat Tuesday,” the party hardying prior to the abstinence of Ash Wednesday, a man in California killed his three daughters and the woman supervising the girls’ visit with her father, part of the terms dictated since his divorce. Then killed himself. In a church sanctuary.

Who can imagine such tragedy, much less perform it?

Kyrie eleison. Christ have mercy. Because there is so much mercilessness in the world.

Lent beckons us to peer into the face of such tragedy, in the world at large and even in our own selves. Not because God is a sadist and has need of masochists. But because mercy is available—the opportunity to reverse history’s brutal momentum, to bridge relations’ fracture, to reestablish neighborliness, to recenter life to its true Midpoint, its accurate Plumb, its proper Alignment, to take shelter under the wings of the Most High.

What Lent asks of us is not easy, and certainly not for the faint of heart. It entails a kind of scouring, a frightful vulnerability, a willingness to relinquish assumed identity. Here the guardrails come down; the escape hatch is closed; the rationales dissipate; the certainties undermined. Like Peter, we protest that salvation’s destiny should endure a shameful crucifixion.

We long to flee, to fight, or to freeze. But to be free, none of these options will suffice.

Do you long for freedom? Then submit to the ashes. We have nothing to lose but our fears.

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