Lent starts on 17 February 2010. Here is a guest post by our friend Maryann Philbrook reflecting on Lent. She co-developed a bible study series for the season that you find here and that is highly recommended.
I’ve been thinking about Lent 2010 for a long time. This is not a season that snuck up on me this year. The main reason is that I’m part of a team that developed “Cries of Anguish, Stories of Hope: A Lenten study on the Worldwide Struggle to end Violence Against Women.” (You can check out the study http://women.overcomingviolence.org).
When I told some of my friends at Church here about this project, one quipped that “you’ve found a way to make Lent evenmore depressing.” Lent is depressing, but it’s depressing because our world is depressing. Lent is the time when we focus on the sins of this world. Lent is a time to understand our own complicity to these problems. Lent is a time where we look for Jesus’ love despite these problems. We look all the problems square in the eye and say “you cannot win.”
During my research and planning for this project I have learned about atrocities all over the world. Human trafficking is the most profitable black market industry in the world – with estimations going as high as $32 billion a year with over 27 million people currently enslaved. On average in South Africa a woman is raped every 26 seconds. In India there are 21 women of the Dalit Caste (“untouchables”) are raped each week. In the UK, the police estimate that 95% of rapes are never even reported. In the US, it is estimated that between 2 and 4 million women are assaulted every year by their partners. I did this research – I found all this information, yet the image that I see when I close my eyes is a girl in a pink shirt playing in the dirt in front of her hut in the Democratic Republic of Congo while you can hear her father saying that she will have to be a prostitute because no man will want to marry someone who is tainted. She was raped while gathering firewood. Her attacker, while jailed for a few months, will go free. I see her face and her tears every time I close my eyes to think about violence against women. Hers is the story that I cannot forget.
Yet, as much as these stories are appalling what I am struggling with is my own place in the picture. What am I doing to contribute to or bring an end to violence against women? Am I ever complicit? I know I have thought, or even said that perhaps a woman could have done something to avoid being raped. As if she brought it on herself. I have believed that only “weak” women stay with abusers. If women were stronger they would just leave him. I have looked the other way when I see a girl being harassed on the street. I have failed to speak out when a man talks to me inappropriately in a bar, hoping he’ll just go away. My work to eliminate violence against women is a drop in the bucket. What am I doing in this depressing situation? Where is God in this?
Lent is the time that the Church sets aside for us to remember and focus on these tragedies. We do this, not because God is absent in all of this, but because these tragedies are precisely where God is. God’s love for people extends beyond the worst that can possibly happen. Jesus came into the world to give people the ability to live in hope despite our tragic circumstances. Despite all the facts that I listed above, God is here with us. God is giving us hope to face the terrible situations and make something better out of them.
If we lived in a rosy, perfect world we wouldn’t need Lent. If the only problems in our lives are who will organize the Parish Pot luck next week or where we’ll go on vacation next summer we would not need Lent. Lent is a time for us to look around us and look around the world at the serious problems. A time for us to understand the problems. A time for us to immerse ourselves in the problems. We have Lent to be depressed about the world.
Luckily, for us and the world, Lent is not the end, but only the beginning. We have Easter to live out the rest of the year. When we truly understand and relate to the seriously depressing situations in the world we can rejoice even more loudly that Jesus conquers all. Jesus is Lord.