The Flavor of Lent
Pr. Justin Kosec
This can give Lent a penitential flavor. Lent becomes a time to count our sins. Or to try to master our appetites. In this sense, Lent is like tightening a belt just enough to feel your spiritual belly pop out; with every constrained breath you remind yourself just how much sinful chocolate you actually consume.
I think there is value in Lenten privation. But to me, the goal of such discipline is attentiveness, mindfulness, intention. And you can achieve such attentiveness through more than simply restricting your diet.
I have friends who add something during Lent, like a Bible reading. A time for focused daily writing.
I have one clergy friend who gives up meetings for Lent. She has her church do the same thing. Imagine how this changes the rhythm of work, or even what we think we require to accomplish our work.
This Lent, we’re following the scripture readings to discover a different kind of Lenten discipline: Question-asking.
Before I share what this means, let’s consider questions for a moment.
Have you ever stopped to wonder what a question is?
It’s not quite as simple as it seems.
Recently, I counted the number of questions in the scripture readings that appear in our Lenten calendar, and there are over a hundred.
Some of these questions are curious, open-ended questions. For instance, when Jesus teaches a Samaritan woman about the water of life in John 4, she asks him, “Where can you get this living water?”
This is a familiar kind of question. The woman wants to know what Jesus has to say; she wants to hear his answer.
But not all questions work like this.
When Nicodemus speaks with Jesus in John 2, both ask questions with more of an…edge. Responding to Jesus’ teaching with incredulity, Nicodemus asks, “How can someone be born when they are old?” Later in the conversation, Jesus claps back at Nicodemus with a pointy question of his own: “You are Israel’s teacher, and you do not understand these things?”
While Jesus and Nicodemus fence with questions, the serpent in Genesis 3 uses questions to deceive. The serpent asks a question to sow doubt, to create distance, to drive a wedge of uncertainty between Eve and God.
So what is a question? Is a question an opportunity to learn from someone? Or a device for baiting them? It can do both. Does a question build relationship? Yes, sometimes. But we can also use questions to belittle others (“Why would you do something like that?”) or put them on the defensive (“How dare you!”).
Here’s what we discover in the scripture readings this Lent: people often pose questions of every kind to Jesus. People use questions to defy Jesus. They ask questions to learn from Jesus. Some try to use questions to trap Jesus.
If prayer is conversation with God, this means people pray with Jesus using cagey, clever, curious, cautious, and courageous questions. They come to God, arms full with uncertainty. They open their hearts to God by showing Jesus their doubts. They defy God by refusing to accept Jesus’s most challenging teachings.
So this…ah…begs some questions. How do we use questions in our relationship with God? What questions do we avoid asking—because they feel too dangerous, or because we hesitate to reveal our ignorance? What have you always wanted to ask God? Or, what would you never want God to ask you? How, if at all, do we allow dialogue with God to transform our relationship with God? How do our questions change once we’re engaged in this holy conversation?
Questions always lead to more questions.
That’s what we explore in our Lent series, Ask.
Each weekend in worship we hear longer scripture readings where people unfurl questions before God. In their questions, we hear echoes of our own.
In Wednesday worship at noon and 6:40 p.m., we create space for dialogue around questions we might carry today.
In our daily devotional (available for free! Details at the end of this article), you’ll have time to carefully consider a bite-sized question from scripture; and you’ll practice praying through questions.
Throughout the whole season, we will hold space for the kind of uncertainty, discernment, and dialogue that only questions can provide.
Hopefully, when we listen carefully, we will find God posing questions to us in return. Then we will discover what we notice in the scripture: God always uses a question to draw closer to the people God loves. ♦