Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures, “Wilderness”
Lent is our migration into exile, into our Wilderness. For the next forty days, we make it our home. We are nomads, dislocated from our familiar lands, with only our tattered pasts as markers, seeking out uncertain futures toward Easter. Forced on, our power of travel seems transcendent. We cross place and period. We have no idea how far we’ve gone, how long we’ve walked. It’s dizzying. We travel far and wide through many different times. What do we see there?
We see dust and ash. When we imagine the Wilderness of the Bible, we romantically conjure vast dunes of sand and wide acres of scrubby trees. But today is Ash Wednesday. Our Wilderness begins in dust and ash, the very material of our flesh, itself. I saw the saints and their toys. This season starts smudged on our foreheads, above our eyes and against our thoughts. We are reminded that we are created from burnt decay. And to decay we shall return. Among our ruins, we find the familiar. We are not so different from the Wilderness, are we? Why does it not seem easier, then, to dwell within it?
In our Wilderness, with little left to reassure us, we force to focus our gaze. Our vision painfully sharpens. All about us, we see outlines of ruins, of whole cities and cultures, of our selves and our expectations. Understand, now, that everything is dust. Nothing can last. This is not so strange. Indeed, chances are you do not remember last year’s Lent so well. See? You do not even remember your own exile or what you even wanted. What did you see there? I saw all knowledge destroyed.
The Church seems to be our safety, but let us not be foolish. It is as safe as we are to ourselves. The Church created the season of Lent to remind us of our mortality, of our life and death. I travelled far and wide to prisons of the cross. And are we not the Church here in the Wilderness? What did you see there? The power and glory of sin. That which brought and brings death, itself, that selfish tyrant and banner, into the world. These complexities of our mortality. The traces of power and glory smeared onto our faces. Dust and ash, the paradox of vast civilizations’ ruin and the very grains of our good, created bodies. What did you see there? The elements are the same. On Ash Wednesday, we have our black and oily marker. But there is another: The blood of Christ on their skins.
Realize that in Lent, everything is up for grabs because everything is all for naught. Lent is that abandonment. It is the offering of stones as bread. It is the season of risk, of distillation, of wheat and chaff. Lent is the abandonment to risk the hope for real and lasting embrace. I travelled far and wide through many different times. Lent is dangerous living. Our Lent is a hard Lent, not a soft one. It is not simple denial of simple pleasures and desires.
I travelled far and wide and unknown martyrs died. We are lost here. In a way, we never make it out. Real parts of us never make it out of the Wilderness alive. A good Lent cannot be entirely survived. What did you see there? I saw the one-sided trials. For and against our selves, we die in the Wilderness, in exile, lost.
What did you see there?
I saw the tears as they cried,
They had tears in their eyes,
Tears in their eyes,
Tears in their eyes,
Tears in their eyes.
Our Lent begins. What will we see there?