Ash Wednesday. And no one cares to make any money off of it. So it doesn’t matter. There’s no party. No consumption. In fact, the only consumption is lack. We take on emptiness to feel present and presence. And yet advertising is all about need – created need, commodification, distinction, distanciation, fear, insufficiency, desire. Is this not what Ash Wednesday and Lent is all about? Would not advertising love this season? Or have Ash Wednesday and Lent trumped advertising and beaten it at its own game? Now, we’re playing with ontological and existential categories, something advertising would LIKE us to believe is what is at stake, but we all wink and secretly know it’s not.
For a moment, forget the religious aspects of the season. Lent is just empty. It’s hollow. It’s that hollowness that nothing can fill. It’s the absence of God, the absence of friendship, the stark presence of self as self, itself, and the absolute absence is present. It is stark and grey and the dark, fine powder of a dream home burnt to the ground. Lent is after the wildfire.
Empty yourself of all your gods, for they are only idols anyway. Nietzsche writes that we must tear down our idols, our values, and create new values. Perhaps, this is not just a bad idea – if only for a season. Let our Lent be that time when we consider the death of our idols and reflect upon what values we truly desire. For desire is the aesthetic and epistemic presence of lack. And if you desire your Lent too much, too joyfully, then your Lent is your idol and you have let your Lent be cast down and crushed like a rancid halo.
There are no gods here. Only us, the living dust.
Ash Wednesday is a beginning of a journey of forty days of circumspection. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Jesus wanders in the wilderness for forty days. In Lent, we must leave the familiar, which can be the hardest part. We do strange things. We may let someone smudge ash on our head and tell us that we came from dust and to dust we will return and then send us back into our noisy lives. We may eat differently. We may act differently. We consider our lack and our possession. And temptation is that desirous consideration of the lack in our lives. We are tempted to end the journey early. We are tempted by many things.
It goes without saying that Lent is my favorite season, a time when all the trappings of life and religion are put away and we get down to brass tacks. This is not fire and brimstone of damnation or the praise and glory of salvation. It is doubt in the face of certainty. It’s an opportunity to reconsider our beliefs, to be skeptical, to lament that everything is meaningless – that our institutions, our religions, our selves are meaningless. And in doing so, we rediscover, find, determine, create new meanings.
So let us hope that this Lent brings us despair, for then we can give up those things that are despairing. Lent is a time of radical freedom, a time when all bets are off and we can seek to create new things. Lent is a time when all things collapse. It is okay for things to collapse. In Lent, expectations collapse. Churches collapse. Wandering in the wilderness, we collapse.
During this season, I will offer thoughts on such Lenten saints as Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, and a variety of “psalmists.” It is not my goal to “Christianize” any of these writers. These writers have embodied what this blog seeks to be more eloquently than I could ever write.
It is the goal of this Lenten practice to walk through the dust and to come through on the other side with a better understanding of our selves and our places in this world and how we might change it. For as bleak as it may seem for each of us. It is much more bleak for our neighbor. And we must be ready to be there for them in their times of sorrow. We must be there for each other in our times of sorrow when we collapse. Because sorrow will, indeed, come. And it often comes out of season.