Lent: Christians’ annual 40-day orientation

Published 8:37 am Friday, February 27, 2009

“To orient” means to get one’s bearings, to come back into proper alignment. Its most literal sense is to face east. Christians have begun an annual 40-day orientation called Lent. In Lent, people of faith remember Jesus’ journey to a cross, and death. They trust the enduring conviction that by his self-giving death on a cross, Jesus accomplished a world-saving sacrifice that redeems sinners such as us.

Orientation is especially important when we have lost our way, when we stumble in the dark, or when we have become distracted from positive direction in our life. Once when I was strongly tempted to feel sorry for myself, dejected by circumstances I judged unpleasant and unfortunate, I took a CPR class. In addition to learning what could have been a life-saving technique, I discovered that this very positive interruption also reoriented me — firmly away from my spiral of self-pity and back toward a compassionate concern for others. That’s also how I often experience the leading of Jesus.

When personal aches and pains, a plummeting economy, or employment uncertainty threaten with disorientation and despair, Jesus can turn us around and move us once again in a more life-giving direction. Jesus draws us closer to himself and to one another. Maybe Jesus speaks personally to some people, but I’m not one of them. To me he sends angels. Not the white-robed sort with fancy wings, but people who look just like you.

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I don’t even remember who suggested I take that CPR class, but I’ll chalk it up to Jesus. You face orientation opportunities like that each and every day. There will be plenty of circumstances that will coach you toward anger, unhelpful behaviors, feeling sorry for yourself, or any number of negative responses. But there is a heavenly host of everyday ordinary angels sent daily to steer you back. Lent is simply your invitation to notice.

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis. (O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.)

May Jesus orient us today toward the important, the lasting, and the good.