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Reflections on Lent from the Outside

February 20, 2010

This week seems to be the week of faith. On Tuesday, my friends ate pancakes. On Wednesday there were ashes, which I referred to as dirt at first glance. Today, my daily book recommendation was “An Altar in the World,” which was touted as elegant and ardent as well as faithful — this means that I will be picking up a copy as soon as possible.

I am glad for these reminders, though it makes me feel estranged in my own world. These are people I know and love — and yet this week has been a reminder that they have traditions that are not my own, that are utterly foreign to me. Why pancakes? Why ashes? Why faith!?

This isn’t the first time I’ve come face-to-face with my own lack of faith and traditions. It’s been a recurring theme, really — why do I not believe when so many others do? More to the point, how can I not believe when I know that my life is so fragile and altered by so many unexpected moments? How can I look at this procession of transformations and not see in them something bigger than myself?

On the other hand, how can I?

I am not a person who disbelieves. I am not anti-theistic, nor anti-religion. There is simply a certain dependability that I don’t see in my world, a certain faith that I don’t encounter, a struggle I don’t always engage in. It is more that there is a language that I don’t speak — and often, a language I wish I did. I know a few words. But that’s all.

And so, when my friends eat pancakes and celebrate Ash Wednesday and give up things for Lent, I find myself utterly astray in a world where I am only able to read a few signposts and, if lucky, orient the guidebook. It is a strange land to me, one which I wish I understood better. I wish I knew where the marketplace was and the terrain of the streets and the proper greetings.

But I don’t. And so I feel somewhat adrift, watching people I love engaging with this strange world of faith where I can’t follow. It is an odd feeling. And I know that there are places I go where they can’t follow me, and so this season serves as a reminder of that as well.

In the end, maybe what I should take from this is that our struggle is that of connection in the face of isolation, that our ability to talk and love through our foreign languages and broken worlds and faiths is worth something too.

But I’m not sure of that either.

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