Blogging toward WEDNESDAY: A desert in the oasis

February 19, 2009

Our Lent lectionary blogging will
consist of individual posts by a variety of contributors. This first one
comes from Nadia Bolz-Weber, whose book Amy Frykholm reviewed last month. —Ed.

During
Advent we floated in the deep blue of God's embryonic waiting, of God's
preparing the world for a scandalous birth. At Christmas we sang with
the angels the endless heaven- and earth-filled glory of God-as-babe,
and in the white of Epiphany we followed the light of this
Christ-in-the-world come to redeem Mary and Elizabeth, Herod and us.
Now, in this bruised Lenten purple, the light of Epiphany has led us to
dust and desert.

On Ash Wednesday we enter into pure paradox. The
gospel reading warns against practicing our piety before others; then
we come up to have ashes put on our foreheads. What could be more
public? But the church insists we walk though a day outwardly wearing
the inward reality of our own mortality not to reward us for our faith
but to remind us of our failing.

Our 40-day journey through the
desert of temporality and the dust from which we were formed is a
countercultural endeavor. As Paul says in today's epistle,

We
are treated. . . as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet
not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many
rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Our
self-obsessed culture may see Lent's fasting, prayer, sacrificial
giving and self-reflection as a result of low self-esteem. But by
participating in this season we boldly embrace our identity and appear
every bit as odd as our first-century brothers and sisters in Christ.

Ever
since God breathed into our nostrils the breath of life, we have been
both living beings and the dust to which we return. While this dust
seems at first to be only the dry remnant of a life ended, in fact it's
the fecundity of a God who creates life from void, who breathes God's
self into earth to bring forth us, the creature. The same God who brings
forth living water from God's own broken humanity.

Our journey
is in the desert. Following Christ, we leave our false oasis of instant
gratification, indulgence of every whim and stuff—lots and lots of
stuff. The body of Christ is not an oasis in the desert but a desert in
the oasis. In our diabetic coma of self-absorption, we are at times
vaguely, silently aware that we have gorged on the promises of the
American Dream and are left hungry.

We go to church on Ash
Wednesday to be told that we are dust and to dust we shall return; the
collagen-injected lips turn to dust, even the pilates-lengthened
muscles, the 12 essential vitamins and minerals and the bottled water.
We are told that we can live forever with the right combinations of
exercise, diet and elective surgery. But we know—in those inevitable
moments of disquieting silence—that the oasis is not all it's cracked up
to be, and so we enter the desert where we can no longer turn from the
inevitable dust, where the seemingly impossible happens: destructive
self-centeredness is transformed into cruciform living.