A Subversive Celebration

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
— Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer


“The Lenten fast is not intended only for monks and nuns, but is enjoined on the whole Christian people… Just as the monk by his voluntary self-denial is seeking to affirm the intrinsic goodness and beauty of God’s creation, so also is each married Christian required to be in some measure an ascetic.

The way of negation and the way of affirmation are interdependent, and every Christian is called to follow both ways at once.”

— Bishop Kallistos Ware, Lenten Triodion


This morning I am writing. As such, I am not reading or going for a walk or watching Netflix or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. The “affirmation” that is my writing is a “negation” of all these other things. To choose any one thing is to not choose an infinity of others. I am limited and I cannot do everything. And so with everything I do, I do not do many other things.

Every affirmation is a negation.

This is a fundamental principle of spiritual life. For in the act of sacred reading, meditation, or prayer there is a negation of our foolishness, vain desires, and self-reliance.

This principle ought to also work the other way around, with every negation also being an affirmation. But, all too often, negation is a dead end in and of itself. The Lenten season becomes one in which we give up Facebook, or chocolate, or soda, but replace it with nothing at all. And then some weeks from now, once we’ve sung our “Hallelujahs” and “He is Risens,” we will wonder why we are not changed. There is no way to scoop up and throw out darkness. It can only be dispelled with light.

Yet there is a way in which our act of negation works as an affirmation throughout this season: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent begins with a recognition of our mortality and the reality of death. As such, it is a season of repentance and of lament. Lament and grief are an act of negation. Joy flees in the face of death, and so we grieve. Yet, for the Christian, grief is not an end in itself. To grieve death is a subversive way of celebrating life; to grieve divorce is a subversive way of celebrating marriage; to grieve loneliness is a subversive way of celebrating community; to grieve at all is a subversive way to affirm love. Our lament this season is a subversive celebration.

As it was asked in an episode of Marvel’s WandaVision, “What is grief, if not love persevering?” The lament we carry in this season is an acknowledgment of the love we have experienced. And the fasting we practice is an opportunity to extend that love in new ways. As we lament our losses and fast from our vices, a new space is opened within our hearts and lives. Our sadness can be forged into compassion for others. Our fasting can provide occasions for service and prayer. Discarded distractions can lead to a deeper desire for God. As we lament all that is wrong with the world and repent for the wrongs we have done, what invitations begin to emerge? What might it look like to join God in making things right as we await resurrection?

The celebration and expectation of resurrection is here now—embedded in the tears of our pain, the heat of our anger, and the sighs of our remorse. For despair is not the opposite of hope and rage is not the opposite of love. Cold indifference is the true enemy, for it is neither an affirmation nor a negation; neither light nor shadow. So this Lent, may we grow near to our longing and the longings of our neighbors so that our lament may subvert the darkness and make way for the light of love.

“This present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters…the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. We were saved in hope…we wait for it with patience.”
— Romans 8:18-25, CEB

Written by Drew Dixon

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