Friday, February 8, 2008

Lent by Niggle

Things might have been different, but they could not have been better.
Leaf by Niggle” is an allegory in which Catholic Tolkien extends a healthy understanding of a life’s work beyond the bounds of death. It describes a Purgatory so beautiful that I hope God lets me slide in even if I always remain Protestant. If you wanna get a feel for why, I recommend reading it.

But Catholics don’t necessarily have to have all the fun. I once described what I liked about Purgatory to a Protestant friend of mine—the hope that our lifelong process of sanctification doesn’t have the enormously anticlimactic ending of dying feebly unsanctified and waking up completely finished, as if the whole process of life had meant nothing—and he mused, “Maybe I do believe in Purgatory; I just think we’re already in it.”

I don’t mean to tackle issues of theological controversy; that was just my attempt to explain a quote taken from a Purgatory allegory to introduce a Lenten post. But when I accidentally read Tolkien’s story this afternoon, I was comforted to remember that the fumbles which I am wont to replay in my endless cycle of regret have been caught up in a greater story that I could not make any better even if I could undo my errors. Reverse Entropy strikes again.

That is why, I suppose, taking 40 days to humble oneself in the light of sin is actually healthy enough to be written into the Church calendar. I should have handled that relationship differently. I should not have sent that email. I should have listened. But in six weeks when Christ goes and defeats sin on its own turf, my sin will become part of the story of its own redemption.

…But who wants to ruin a really great story by reading the last page?


Chestertonian Rambler said...

As a fellow grad student mired in papers (what else could drive one to write such a thing in the first place?!) I'm glad you appreciated my bit of insanity.

As a Protestant, I'm interested in your experience of Lent. It's something I almost dove into this year--but the confessions I tend to flit along the edges of (Southern Baptist and now PCA) tend to ignore it, and I felt having a solitary Lent would be just one personal idiosyncracy too many. (Christianity is, after all, a faith we are supposed to experience *as a body*, and Lent was originally something that supported that sense of little-c communion. Still is, where it is actually celebrated.)

Em the luddite said...

Good to hear from you! I'm on the newer-end to the Lenten tradition myself; my background went from Assemblies of God to interdenominational to Baptist with PCA influences, and I attended my first Anglican church in college.

Perhaps what I love about the Church calendar is that it forces one to relive the story year after year: every year I wait in longing for his coming at Advent; I celebrate his Incarnation for twelve days; I follow his life and ministry after Epiphany; I probe my deep need for cleansing during Lent; I take part in the Passion (he washes my feet, I fall asleep in the garden, I watch him die, I wait by his tomb, and I experience the exuberance of his resurrection... the full experience of an Anglican Easter is something everyone should experience sometime); and I fumble through what it means to be the Church after Pentacost.

It's a huge story, and each part of it is worth taking the time to explore. I can understand a reluctance to plunge into Lent alone; that's a pretty dark part of the calendar to experience without the rest! But, as I'm coming to realize, a deeper understanding of my status as a sinner frees me up to experience the baffling freedom of Grace like nobody's business.