I have been reflecting on Lent this week (today being Ash Wednesday), and the phrase “beauty from pain” has struck me. Beauty is an undeniable aspect of our world, and an aspect most, if not all, people would like to see heightened. The Church has a long history of appreciating beauty. Historically the Church has been a great financier and leader in the world of art and music. We have also led the way in appreciating the beauty of people– here I think of the work of institutions like L’Arche which promote the sanctity of those who by most measures are “the least of these”. It would be to our discredit if the Church failed to be a leader in appreciating beauty (Yes I know some Christian music and most Christian movies are trash but not everything can be Handel or Dante). An essential element of Christianity is recognizing that, like truth, all beauty originates in God. Beauty may be twisted, profaned, and perverted, but its concept is with the Creator. Reveling in beauty, untainted by human sinfulness, is God communicating with the human soul.
But here we are at Lent, a season inaugurated by ashes, a symbol of death and destruction. Lent is cold, parched, and drab; Lent is a season where we are reminded of our brokenness and the pain in the world. This is a time to experience the hurts of the world, as we celebrate Lent we give expression to the difficulty the Church experiences in the world around us. Or at least this is the expectation. Lent is supposed to help us engage the suffering of humanity brought on by sin and injustice. The spiritual disciplines many people add to their routine during Lent are meant to help us engage the pain of the world. We are meant to empathize with those who are hurting, grieving, and suffering. Participating in Lent is about making real the impact of sin in the world around. As I deny myself, I am making room for the hurting of others to become my pain. This, I think, is part of what drove Jesus into the wilderness. As he took time to deny himself in the wilderness he became more in tune with the hurting of the world around him. His time of fasting and solitude led him to see how he could best serve a lost and grieving humanity. These 40 days are about participating with Jesus in his wilderness journey; we are called to enter into the suffering of the world around us, particularly the church. As I celebrate Lent I should be contemplating the injustices, the hurts, and persecutions which are reality for my brothers and sisters.
The empathy we experience for the suffering of others is important. Such sympathy gives us the platform to build a bridge connecting ourselves to those communities in need. And it is across this bridge that we bring healing and reconciliation to a world in desperate need. Done right, the fasting of Lent can lead to the building of deep connections within the body of Christ. That is as we connect to the hurt of this world we learn how to create beauty out of pain. I may not be personally impacted by injustice the way my African American brothers and sisters are, I may not know what it is like to experience the persecution suffered by the church in China, but the self-sacrifice of Lent can help me to take on some of the experience of their pain. And through my own experience I can begin to help ease the hardship that they experience.
One of the many realities of the cross is that through Jesus’experience God more fully understood human suffering and death and was able to transform it to beauty. The instrument of torture and death became the symbol of love and grace to all those who seek beauty. God is in the business of transforming our pain into beauty. The opportunity of this season is to work in the way that God does to transform the world. At times our culture seems starved for beauty. There are too few L’Arche’s raising the dignity of the world around. This lent let us engage in touching the suffering of others so that we might bring true healing and beauty into the world.