Lent and Divine Hiddenness

One of the most interesting things about Catholicism from the perspective of a former evangelical convert is the deep respect that Catholicism has for all aspects of religious life.  One of these dimensions is divine hiddenness.

Lent is about a lot of things. It’s about identifying with Christ in his passion. It’s about changing bad habits.  It’s about reflecting on Christ’s 40 days fast in the desert.  It’s about divine hiddenness.  And it’s okay. There’s not something wrong with you if you experience it.

But this makes me reflect back on how grateful I am for Catholicism and practices like the Lenten season. Let me tell you a story about when I was younger.  I used to love the evangelical services you find in emergent non-denominational churches.  They were feasts for the senses.  One would enter and be taken on an emotional ride through the songs, the sermon, the even more songs.  But along with these services there was always a hidden pressure.  A pressure one felt whenever this emotional high subsided, or when one wasn’t in the mood for such a roller coaster ride.  When one didn’t feel any sort of divine closeness.

I would feel like there was something wrong with me when I didn’t feel up to my weekly dose of spiritual red bull.  Am I somehow a worse christian than those people who seem to have smiles plastered on week in and week out?  Am I less in touch with God because I don’t feel the spontaneous urge to shout amen at the right place in the service?  Spoiler alert! The answer is no.

The experience of divine hiddenness is a perfectly ordinary (and sometimes deeply sanctifying) aspect of the Christian experience.  Now, it’s in fact such an important part of Christian life that in Catholicism (which you may find out is actually true in the forthcoming book Evangelical Exodus-no seriously, this book is pretty good:)), there is and whole liturgical season devoted to, among other things, divine hiddenness.

In lent we fast. We give something up.  On ash Wednesday we very soberly get signed with a cross of ash as a sign of our Christian faith and as a reminder of the reality of death.  During lent the fonts dry up and we can no longer sign ourselves and reaffirm our baptismal promises.  At the culmination of lent everything is covered and mass ends in darkness.  The Lenten season is a reflection on not only god’s hiddenness from us, but culminates in the nearly paradoxical case of God’s being hidden from himself in the crucifixion.  In Christ’s last moments, he recites the first line of Psalm 22, “my god my god why have you forsaken me,” which is an extended reflection on divine distance if I’ve ever seen one.  The Lenten season is (at least partially) about the fact that feeling distant from God is a fact of life and that Christ experienced a profound distance on the cross that dwarfs anything any of us could possibly feel.

Being a Christian and a Catholic doesn’t make life one big frolic through the rosebed.  The Catholic faith wants you to know that life as a christian is hard.  Sometimes dancing isn’t the right approach to life.  The Christian life isn’t about having a smile and getting an emotional high all the time.  It’s a journey toward God’s gift of salvation and virtue.  It’s not about making you feel better. It’s about making you be better.  And sometimes that journey is a long walk through the desert.

Peace be with you.
-JS