“With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy, but no more of the old security. It is sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.” C.S. Lewis, on his mother’s death when he was a child
The coroner likened my 7-year-old brother’s death to the flipping of a light switch. That was how quickly and easily his life ended on the pavement, run down by a drunk driver.
I was older than C. S. Lewis then, but not by much. Like him, the experience of death, so close, forever altered my perception of life. Life has indeed gone on to be much fun, holding many pleasures and stabs of Joy. But tranquility and reliability never returned. Maybe that is why we need Lent, with its focus on the reality and demands of death.
It strikes me that Lent with its disciplines and meditations is like a training regimen for some demanding life and death athletic contest. Here we are, running busy full lives, when Lent calls upon us to set aside weeks of preparation for that yearly plunge into the Good Friday experience of “grief . . . overwhelmed in terror.” Three days later, we make the remarkable high jump to the inexpressible stab of Easter Joy, only to be followed by a downhill climb, back to dark dangerous seas where we spend our days and nights broad jumping islands.
Getting to the grief and terror of Good Friday seems easier in years of failure, loss, parenting woes and worries. In happy eventful years, Easter joy is easier to reach, and I find myself avoiding the somber contemplative tasks of Lent. Funny, how we bring these things to the Lenten Table. And no wonder we need the training regimen orchestrated by our Church calendar if we are to do Lent and Life in a way that prepares us to go on after death shatters our settled happiness.
Lewis’s words hold a truth about death that none of us can escape. Death with no resurrection sinks our great Atlantis. It is Lent with its yearly leap from grief to resurrection that protects and propels us as we jump from island to island in the choppy seas of our lives. No, we cannot see Atlantis, but we can see Jesus.
He has died. He is risen. He is coming again.
O Lord, you are always with me. Strengthen me when I am alone and afraid, sustain me in grief, and gladden my heart with your presence. A-men