This lenten reflection was written by Aaron Stauffer (San Antonio 2010-2011). Aaron is a member of the YAVA Leadership Council, a 3rd-year MDiv student at Union Theological Seminary in NYC and is the Interim Director of Religions for Peace USA).
For many of us, Spring – to no fault of its own – is a troubled time. It is a time when many students are applying for jobs, fellowships, and graduate programs. This can be a season of deep discernment just in itself. But for Christians, Spring coincides with a Lenten time of spiritual discernment and spiritual discipline. If you are student, and a Christian trying to take this time for spiritual and occupational discernment in an economically dismal time, things can seem to be wearing away at the seams. A friend, and fellow student looking for options after graduate school recently told me that she had found solace in the Taoist teachings. One thing she highlighted was the importance of letting go, of not having to be in control of everything and to make the best of a situation. This disposition arises from a sort of humbleness, a sense that in the grand scheme of things, this application, or this fellowship is a relatively small blip. We have to learn to focus on the process, and not the result; we have to abstract from the details and look toward our general flow of things. These are not her words, and they are not meant to represent the Taoist teachings – but they are meant to remind us that in times of spiritual and personal discernment we have to be aware of what we are focusing on and what standards we are setting for ourselves. These standards, when turned over in our hands and are carefully analyzed, reveal something deep about our concerns and ourselves. Like a stone dipped in river water, new impressions begin to appear in our life. This is, in part, my understanding of why Lenten discernment is so important: it is a time when we can reconfigure our habits and practices so as to align with grander convictions and beliefs.
If we run with this image of a stone showing its deeper impressions, we come to an odd twist in our logic. For by trying to look toward the general scheme of things, we see how Lent also brings us to the practical, and to the daily. We see that our standards are not actually based in high ideals but in daily interactions. We see that our understanding of the virtue of love is actually constituted by simple handshakes and hugs from strangers; that our notion of justice is interwoven in the common everydayness of welcoming the religious “other.” What we are called to is the common, the low. Discerning how we are meant to live this out requires “handsome” care, so to speak. With all of the economic, academic, and spiritual pressures around us, Lent can be a time where we refocus on the meager details of life, and focusing on the differences that actually make a difference in each other’s lives.