Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.

An Unexpected Burden of Lent



It has been an unusually difficult Lent. An infant concretizes time in ways never before considered. Against the season, nothing moves slowly. A baby’s cry at 3am assures that. If I want to do anything, I have to give myself a buffer of thirty minutes to even get started. I have to plan in ways I never thought I would have to. I have that lingering fatigue that comes with first-year parenting. Lenten disciplines quickly fall prey to the demands of new life.

I did not write nearly as much as I said I would or wanted. But I continued to try to live in the spirit of abiding, of traveling in the Wilderness. What struck me one day as I was contemplating detachment and exile was that in past years, my Lent and exile was my own, a Kierkegaardian secret of my own. But this year in my wandering, I had a beloved infant that I could not abandon, that I would not leave behind. Even in my personal reflection, he was still there, very much in need of my attention.

If you have ever held a small child in your arms for any significant amount of time, you will understand when I say that my infant is a burden, a weight that can never be forgotten or ignored. My exile is no longer a solitary one, for he comes with me, whether he wants to or not, because I cannot abandon him. My attentions are different. My path is different. He makes the journey paradoxically lighter and heavier. This Lent, I moved much more slowly than I anticipated. Such is Lent.

There are some who see God and God’s loving action in the miracle of birth. With the birth of my child, in the midst of my astonished wonder and joy, I became keenly aware of the millions of suffering, starving children right at this very moment, the millions of pregnant women and young mothers who have no safety because of violence and/or socio-economic injustice. There are no easy theodicies. In fact, atheodicies – whatever that word could mean – seem more viable, more plausible. Such is the miracle of birth.

And today, Holy Saturday, we remember that all hope, for a particular time (we tell ourselves), is dead. The remains of Jesus of Nazareth sealed off from us, because, well, dead bodies tend to swell and stink. Any Easter worth its salt must be more than just the easy expectation of resurrection. Contemplating the death of Jesus, I find myself interpolating between the belief that some sectarian rabbi got himself executed for sedition and that God’s self suffered death and was buried or some possible paradoxical smearing of the two. Or maybe something else. But Easter must possess within itself absolute Death. And today is that Day of Death. It is a Day of Death that is as real as the late-evening hour when I said goodbye to my father for the last time and the dawn-breaking moment of his last, fluttering heartbeat. Jesus is gone. God is gone. It is over. It is finished. We were told so.

Easter is the belief that it is not. Kierkegaard writes that there is no difference between the first century individual and anyone later, when it comes to belief in Christ. Proximity in time or space offers no advantage towards one’s understanding of who Jesus is. The absurdity of it all is timeless. Biblical criticism and theology brings us, ultimately, no closer. There is the paradox of immediacy and absolute distance. And while this might give the naive impression that faith is somehow easier, somehow more accessible because time has no weight, the reality is that faith is all the more difficult, because time means nothing and has no meaning. So we make time of our own.

We create Lent to manufacture a sense of pacing, to ensure our reflection on ephemeral and absolute things and events. Our rituals are our meaning-heavy repetitions of actions. There is a pacing required. An infant creates new rituals that are constantly in flux. Ignore the rituals, ignore the child, and the child suffers. If you are not always already paying attention, the child could die. Time is not my own, anymore – or was it ever? How much did I waste before it keenly belonged to my son?

Like an infant, Easter ruptures all time. We are fatigued and exhausted, with the tree line, the ruins, the desert, the ocean just behind us. Place and time do unspeakable, unfathomable non-Euclidean things. But not today. Today, everything is silent and dead. As I write this before 6am, my son and wife are asleep. It is silent and seemingly dead, as rosy-fingered Dawn stretches out across the sighing sky. It is a moment of peace and quiet, when Jesus is dead, when all is lost. It is clear outside my Brooklyn window. Cold air seeps through the cracks. It is like a tomb, if only for a few more uncertain minutes before Søren awakes, hungry and soiled.

We tell ourselves the Wilderness of Lent is ending. The ritual says that the season’s end is nigh. We squint and tell ourselves we can see something beyond the trees, beyond the tree line, the ruins, the desert, the ocean. We are not there yet, but we tell ourselves “soon… soon.” And if you have an infant in a sling sound asleep, you know well you have no idea what soon means. And, in certain ways, you secretly dread it.

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By Burke
Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.


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