Lent. The Christian 40-day season of preparation for Easter. It’s chief character and call, penitential self-reflection and spiritual renewal. A primary image, wilderness.
Jesus, after his baptism, was thrust by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (or, interpreted existentially, to wrestle with his own inner tensions between sharing power with others or seeking it for himself, sacrificing himself for others or seeking to serve himself).
Following Jesus, Lent, then, is an annual opportunity to reenter the inner desert of one’s soul, where, in its stark barrenness, one may see again one’s self clearly so to emerge with a renewed sense of self and of life’s purpose.
Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, this year falls on March 1. However, I feel as though I’ve been in my personal Lenten season for quite a while. It’s been and continues to be a time of intense wrestling with myself in thought and feeling, intent and action…
Some of it in relation to externals. A big part being the current roiling temperament of support-and-resist-Trump people and parties and what I perceive as the resultant sorrowful broken relationships among families and friends, associates and acquaintances and the seeming woeful incapacity of folk on all sides to speak with clarity, listen with charity, and reason fairly with those with whom they disagree and the dreadful rise in anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and racist hate crimes and civil rights violations…
Most of my wrestling, however, is with me…
Some years ago, at a weekend retreat focusing on team building and personal self-awareness, participants were invited to take part in a small-group activity, The Animal Game. The scenario: You are in a group of different animals gathering at a watering hole. You watch the other animals, their appearance, their manner. The task: Name and describe the animal you perceive each person to be.
Of all the descriptions of me, I remember only one. It was spot-on in accuracy. A member of my group said, “Paul, you are a circus bear.” Surprised and uncertain as to the meaning, I could feel my eyebrows rise above my hairline. He continued, “You are bright and glib, attractive and entertaining, and inviting. People want to draw near to you, but they need to remember you have claws. If they get too close, you’ll swat them.”
How true. Then and now…
In public, I tend to wear a wide-eyed, brightly smiling countenance of accessibility and availability to others. This persona is true. For as long as I have strength, verily, breath, I am a Christian minister who has pledged his life and labor in the service to, for, and with others. Nevertheless, those who know me well have beheld my private self (veiled in the still powerful, in some measure, not so healthy elements of my familial formative years). The alway self-questioning Paul who wonders whether I am loved, respected, and valued as a person and who often enough worries that I am not (that I cannot be!), and who, therefore, is cautious of being too well known, for those drawing near will see and dislike who I fear (believe?) is the “real” unlovable, unrespectable, and unvalued me.
All this comes up for me, for recently I lashed out, “swatted” some friends for failing, as I viewed it, to give me the care I desired. In this instance, as oft is the case (because of which Pontheolla always advises me to wait and to think through what I’m feeling before I react, for almost always, I, intemperately, don’t pause and give loud air to my hurt!), my friends, given their über-busy lives with myriad stresses and strains, hadn’t had a chance to respond. In this and all other instances when this pattern prevails, I am thrown back on myself to ponder anew my faulty inner psycho-wiring, to reexamine my flawed internal emotional workings.
To bear or not to bear the bear within? My internal, eternal question. Suffice it to say, Lent, for me, is no annual 40-day interval, but rather a lifelong sojourn in the wilderness of my soul…
Lent is my life…
My life is Lent.
Illustration: Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness (Jésus tenté dans le désert) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum
Photograph: Graffitie…Put on your happy face, The Bearstone Collection®; a collectible, capturing well my circus bear persona, I purchased some years ago
 Matthew 4.1-11
 Though, on this score, I believe that for some time this American political distemper has been brewing, then boiling, now bubbling over in the election of Donald Trump. For as a student of history, I also believe that nothing, whether predictable or unprecedented, happens in the course of the proverbial “overnight”, but rather always is years in the making. Thus, I further believe, those who could not anticipate, even conceive of Mr. Trump’s election were not giving due attention to the growing seeds of conservative and disestablishment discontent in our national political soil.
 An underlying socio-psycho-political aspect of this “game” involved the self-question: Will I choose to be (will I risk being!) transparently honest in my assessments of others or will I, if, when my judgments may be deemed (heard) as harsh, not wanting to cause dismay to others or fearing the reprisals of others, choose to speak less candidly?