The silhouette of the cross

I once wrote an historical novel, which reminds me what I appreciate about Lent.

A moment to explain.

The narrative focused on the final year in the life of Charles 1, the only English king to be executed.

So it’s a story told with the silhouette of death on the horizon which reaches its denouement on January 30th, 1649.

The English monarch stands on a cold scaffold in Whitehall; and it is very cold, the Thames has frozen over. He wears two shirts today so that he does not shiver and appear afraid to the waiting crowd.

And then, having placed his head on the block, with one swing of the axe, he loses his head.

The impossible has happened. The king is dead.

It had not been an inevitable death, far from it. But as, with hindsight, we follow the twists and turns of the narrative, it stands waiting for us, gaunt-eyed, there at the end of the story.

As with the film Titanic, we know what’s going to happen, we can’t avoid it and can’t step round it… and it’s rather the same with Lent.

People use this season in a number of ways, choosing from various spiritual practices.

Not doing something/Taking up something…that just about covers it.

But however we use it, we know the destination of Lent: the Good Friday crucifixion of Jesus.

It’s there in our consciousness. Like a scratch in the window, whenever we look out, we see it – the silhouette of the cross.

So this is a walk through the wilderness of our mortality.

We may not die for another fifty years, another seventy years…we may die in eighteen months or tomorrow.

But the ‘when’ doesn’t matter.

The genius of Lent is the reminder that life is best lived in death’s kind shadow, in the creative companionship of the daily letting go of our egos.

I call it a kind shadow, when it might seem unkind. The valley of the shadow of death is not traditionally celebrated.

But a sense of our brevity bestows life with energy, focus, awe and perspective.

We are passing through, brief travellers on earth, gasping in wonder, living a mystery.

And again and again death asks important questions like: ‘How goes your journey? Is this the journey you want?’

Sitting on the side in my kitchen is a card which says: ‘She decided to live the life she’d always imagined.’

It’s the sort of decision people take when something in their life has died.

Something has died… and now something else can live; perhaps something longed for.

Death, in its many guises, brings loss, bereavement and pain… and grief needs its voice and its tears.

But it also brings space: fresh space, a different path, a new order.

The genius of Lent is in the silhouette of the cross on the horizon, stark against the sky.

Like a scarring on the window we can’t ignore, it is the sparse but kindly reminder of death – our small deaths, our big death… we might live the life we imagined in the time given to us.

Leave a Reply