Lent: A Season of Belonging
by Corrie Cabes
I’ve found myself often embarking on lonely stints of self-deprivation during the season of Lent. I jump into these practices with the hope that they will draw me closer to the heart of Jesus by casting out distractions. However, I am finding that Lent is not a season to practice self-sufficiency. It’s a season of belonging. Recently, the work of Dr. Willie Jennings, theologian and associate professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale has lovingly pointed me towards a different mindset as I look towards Lent this year.
Professor Jennings speaks from the halls of higher education, and his words are echoing down those halls and trickling into churches and communities with opportunities to reflect on spiritual practices and Christian formation for all ages. He shares that “…belonging [is] a crucial idea around which to rethink the overarching image of what we are [forming] people toward…” Jennings speaks of “the self-sufficient man” that “haunts” western education and the need for an inclusive, welcoming vision where the value in a community is not based on achievement but is reoriented towards an unspoken notion of belonging.
Jesus recognized the holiness of belonging from the beginning of his ministry. He calls John to baptize him; he invites disciples to put down nets full of fish, to leave everything behind, and to follow him. Jesus uses invitation even at the cross. In the gospel of Matthew, Mary Magdalene, Mary (mother of James and Joses), and the mother of the sons of Zebedee unite at the foot of the cross. Mark adds Mary Magdalene and Salome to the description of those present at the crucifixion. Luke names Joanna and Mary, mother of James. John identifies and expands the list to the mother of Jesus, his mother’s sister, Mary of Clopas, in addition to Mary Magdalene. These faithful women find a place of belonging through Christ, and it’s not diminished at the cross. Belonging empowers, equips, and transforms. It is the deep sense of belonging that powerfully reverberates through the empty tomb as Mary Magdalene, follower of Jesus, becomes Gospel bearer, the first to proclaim the risen Lord.
In Lent, we often think of repentance as a central theme of the season. The Greek term for repentance, “metanoia,” speaks to a reorientation and new way of seeing something. This is the repentance to which Christ is calling us; to look upon others with eyes and hearts that respond with the language of belonging and love. Lent is the season to remember that we are all connected to the One who loves us unflinchingly and unfailingly. We may model that same love to one another as a new way to navigate this penitential time.
On Good Friday, we recall the words from the gospel of John, where Jesus looks down from the cross. In this scene, the disciple whom Jesus loved stands beside our Lord’s mother, and the group of women gathered. Jesus teaches them a new sense of belonging: “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” The text tells us that “from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” After this action, Jesus knows his work is complete and soon gives up his spirit. Like Christ, our mission is not complete until we understand that belonging to one another is crucial to our spiritual life as Christians. May we look for ways to take one another into the homes of our hearts during Lent and beyond.