Our next Lenten devotional is written by Dr. Darren Middleton. Having arrived from England via Tennessee in late summer 1998, Dr. Middleton now serves as John F. Weatherly Professor of Religion. When he’s not teaching courses in religion and the arts, he’s watching his son play soccer, Dr. M’s real religion. May his words hold space in your journey ahead.
“Between Contrition and Renewal”
Reading: Mark 1:12-13 (NRSV), “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Reflection: Lent begins with a person in the desert, raising questions. One lease on his life has drawn to a close but the next is not yet assured, so he’s wandering and he’s wondering. Here, in the desert’s arid and barren wilderness, he exists outside the bounds of ordinary social roles and, spiritually speaking, he is neither fish nor fowl, but seems suspended somewhere between back there and up ahead. Back there lies his baptism in the River Jordan, the approving words from heaven, and up ahead lies his public ministry, a life of loving wastefully. But right here and right now, in this widely spaced wasteland, he is alone, with time to ponder and time to pester his God. Alone with his thoughts, Jesus of Nazareth appears caught betwixt and between, and his sense of home looks as if it’s been momentarily interrupted. Lent will do that. It interrupts life, puts it in the balance, as we journey from one season to the next, from confession of sins to entreaties for forgiveness, from the desire for rejuvenation to the way of the Cross. It’s easy to feel rootless or homeless during Lent, because in the desert there’s always the difficulty of finding one’s way.
I left England and arrived in the U.S. in 1993, and it has taken me almost thirty years to feel I belong here, to call this place “home.” (I became a citizen in 2021.) Slowly but surely, I have discovered that home is where my life unfurls and flourishes; that home is where my son was born, and where his Sunday School teachers applaud his questions about life as well as God; and, I have discovered that home is where I am held by affection, especially in those moments, those Lenten moments, when I experience the desert-like difficulty of finding my way. Lent is liminal time, time when we find ourselves caught between contrition and renewal, living with those questions whose answers do not come easily, if they come at all, and so we watch and wait, poised to proceed out towards something new.
Let us pray,
Merciful God, recalling the depth of your compassion for us, we regret our half-hearted discipleship. Forgive us for the limits we have set to Christian kindness. Accompany us on this Lenten journey. Field our questions. And then deepen our faith, increase our hope, and strengthen our love, that we might be signs of Christ, overwhelmed by your Spirit and open to others. Amen.