On lent

Are you happy? Yes, you – right now. Are you perusing these pages while smiling ear to ear and chuckling with good cheer? Much as I would like to think that my journals could induce you to ecstasy, I’m prepared to go out on a limb and reckon that your emotions are actually more prosaic. At-ease, perhaps? Maybe not even that… Rather, a kind of neutral, run-of-the-mill – not sad or worrisome but not particularly hopeful either. Perhaps a lot of conflicting emotions, confused…Maybe after all the life’s changes in the past two years, it is only human and is to be expected.

But the world doesn’t want you to be merely emotionally middling. It wants you to be exuberantly hopeful, mustering all the ambition for the new dawn of this post-pandemic societal-economic flourishing. Every article I read celebrate another restriction-free boarder opening and announcement of ‘new-dates’ for large-scale events (think Maison et Object, Salone etc. – why on earth does the term (RE)connect need parentheses??). News that promise to tell you how you might achieve such a state on our quest for bliss abound (think ‘just back from’ articles boasting spectacularly tailored itineraries to Malta). The world wants you right back on that disorienting rat race we consumed ourselves in pre-Covid, cancelling the precious slower pace we newly found.

I’m typing this out squatting on a foldable camp chair after a short night truncated by mercury falling and wind howling. The tarp over the tent I pitched last night hangs heavy with icy dew and it’s a couple of hours till my girlfriend awakes. In the silence and cold of the isolated morning I started thinking about my relationship with wilderness spaces. It feels like the moment for it. We are in the middle of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter that symbolise the New Testament story of Jesus’s time in the wilderness. It’s a strange time for it, after over 100 weeks in which I’ve been forced to fast from regular sources of joy and pleasure and have hungered for less isolation and more human connection. It has felt at times like a symbolic wilderness, one I didn’t choose to enter. The wilderness reminds us of our human frailty and our lack of control. 

So, as has been my custom for the last few years, I’ve used Lent to reflect on what the wilderness seasons of our lives — those difficult, desolate times we all experience — bring with them. Instead of focusing on what to give up, I look instead for signs of nourishment and life.

Remote islands in West Sea Korea. The wilderness reminds us of our human frailty and our lack of control
Remote islands in West Sea Korea. The wilderness reminds us of our human frailty and our lack of control

But first, I pause to wonder wherever this naive hope that the world, its history and society must always improve? This linear view that we march along the inevitably upward trajectory of ceaseless progress? Who wantonly borrowed from the Christian belief of eternally perfect and happy place and unwarrantedly brought it forward to this world and now? Who combined the secular faith in human knowledge and science with the idea of heavenly progress into a new religion – this doctrine that says we can have heaven here and now if only we try hard enough?

If what Macbeth uttered so eloquently “Each new morning, new widows howl and new orphans cry, new sorrows strike heaven upon the face” has any modicum of truth, sorrow is inevitable and life is fragile and brute. Particularly in times like now, we need a working theory of how to not only cope in times of uncertainty and suffering but find peace, and even grow.

In times like now, we need a working theory of how to not only cope in times of suffering and uncertainty but find peace, and even grow.

I’ve always been taught that you choose joy. Not because this world is some happy, blissful place. The opposite… because this is a broken world we live in. The planet is broken, climate is broken, my body is broken and so are relationships that surround me. But the trials I endured have given me perspective and afforded me empirical evidence that endurance and resilience result in character. I find peace, and even hope, that this adversity, too, would lead me to a place of growth.

In “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28), Apostle Paul reminds us that not all things are good … in fact, far from it, but God causes everything to work ‘together’ for the good. I think it means when I travail through the good and the bad, all of them together work for my good. What happens outwardly in our lives are not as important as what happens inside us. Circumstances are temporary, but character lasts forever.

So I chose joy. Joy in the knowledge that troubles result in patience and patience leads to character.

And when none of that will do, I’ll be borrowing from the earthly smarts of Bryan Ferry “Drifting through a world that’s torn and tattered. Mama says love is all the matters, beauty should be deeper than your skin

Solitary tented camp. The wilderness reminds us of our human frailty and our lack of control. 

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