Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of a 40 day journey of hiddeness. It corresponds to Israel's 40 years of wandering in a desolate, remote desert; the 40 days that Christ was tempted in an austere and isolated wilderness. For centuries, followers of Christ have entered their own journey into the desert of fasting, prayer and repentance in solidarity with Jesus and the people of God.
I was confronted this morning with the necessity that this journey be one of hiddeness. It came to me as I read these words and felt immediately convicted:
"When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you." "And when you fast, don't make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is teh only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you." (Matthew 6:5-6, 16-18)
Earlier this week, I announced on Face Book that David and I were going to fast from meat and eat a vegetarian diet during Lent. Now I'm not so sure that was a good idea. While I believe I have an opportunity to provide encouragement to others who want a deeper relationship with Christ, I am sobered by what Jesus said about parading my own spiritual practices in a way that draws attention to my personal piety.
Announcing to the "world" my own intentions related to Lent can taint my motives for seeking after a deeper intimacy and solidarity with Christ. ("don't be like the hypocrites....") It's a quandary. While I want to walk alongside others in this journey with Christ, modeling and encouraging a real, honest and deep engagement with him, I also need to guard my own intimate and hidden relationship with him. Like lovers who protect the privacy of their intimate encounters, I must follow a path into the desert of hiddeness with Christ and shelter what happens there.
So, I will stew about this some more and consider what it means to--in this age of social media and shouting from the mountain tops--follow the hidden path during this Lenten season. May you and I treasure the private moments we have with Christ in these next 40 days, as we turn to our prayer closets and meatless tables in search of a deeper life in him.