Although most of us wouldn’t identify our emotions as “dependence” on Valentine’s Day, and the “beloved” is focused on our most treasured humans instead of God, we are claiming we’d rather not be without that person. Conversely, we probably don’t think of our confessions on Ash Wednesday as a proclamation of love. And, yet, a confession and an oath of love are very much related.
The point I’m trying to make is simplified in the over-used phrase embedded in many Country Western lyrics: “Your love makes me want to be a better man.” So on Valentine’s Day we say to our beloved, “I like who I am when I’m with you.” And on Ash Wednesday, we say to God, “Because of your love, I want to be a better person.” The inextricable link between the two ideas is highlighted in scripture: “We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).”
Lent is referred to as “the season of penitence,” but if we focus only on the part of confession that lists our “manifold sins and wickedness,” as described in Holy Eucharist Rite I, we don’t overlook the opportunity for repentance. God’s intention is for metanoia, which is the in Greek word for repentance.
While penance is a very necessary acknowledgement of the ways we have fallen short of our plan to live a holy life, repentance is about a transformative change of heart. At the most basic level, metanoia is about turning back to God, so that we are once again open to, and aware of, the depth and breadth of God’s love — despite our brokenness; despite our pain; despite our close-mindedness.
May you experience this Lenten season as practice of self- awareness—instead of self-flagellation—and may your discoveries open you to more hope, more love, and more joy in the knowledge that God is at work in your words, in your actions, AND in your loving. Lenten blessings to you!