Lent has always been one of my favorite times of the year. Appropriately meaning “spring,” I have found these forty days to be utterly reminiscent of just that, full of rebirth and rejuvenation. The time of conscientious discipline and self-examination has always meant one of paring my life of unnecessary frivolities and distractions, focusing on what I have deemed necessary, important, and good. The time I spend on social media and other time-draining websites will be cut, resolving to devote this time to almost anything other than comparison-drawing, attention-seeking sites like Facebook unless it is for communication purposes. I plan to rededicate myself to physical activity, hoping to reverse the atrophy of my body caused by grad school and far too many excuses. Finally, prayer and self-examination will be brought closer to the forefront of my priorities as I use this time to dust off my spiritual life that has remained too dormant these last seven months since returning from my year in Jamaica as a PVI.
That year, in many ways, was a period of Lent in my life – a time of fruitful denial, of searching, and of temptation. Since coming back to the United States, this land of plenty, this seasonal transition to a winter devoid of signs of life has mirrored the transition from that Jamaican spring. Living in the intentional PVI community, surrounded by like-minded people, the best was brought out in us. We were held accountable by each other to live up to the standards of communities before us and of the ideals of the program, namely simplicity and service. Whenever one of the individual members was torn down, another member or the community, as a whole was always there to build them up, and torn down we were. We were torn down by work, by words, by time, by tragedy, even by each other. Despite this, it was never long before a fellow PVI or a moment or service would offer rebirth and rejuvenation.
This tearing brings to mind the Ash Wednesday’s First Reading and my personal mantra for this Lenten season from the book of Joel: “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God,” This rending, this tearing, conjures not images of violence and desecration, but of purification and paring our lives of that which directs us away from our telos, our purpose to be the most whole human beings we can be. Since completing my time as a PVI, this goal has not always been at the forefront of my thoughts. With our community spread throughout the country and hemisphere, keeping in touch isn’t always easy. The people and places we fell in love with in Jamaica are but memories at times. These faces and work that stripped us of our pride, our greed, and our envy have been replaced with school and jobs that, at least for me, lack all the newness, vibrancy, and meaning that got us out of bed and down the street to taxi every morning for a year of our lives.
Now, I don’t want to lead you to think that this return has been filled with nothing but despair compared to the joy felt in Mandeville. Rather, I hope to use this springtime to return to the service and simplicity that left such a profound mark on my life, spiritual and otherwise. Rededicating myself to these ideals will, I know, be far from easy with temptation forever bearing down on me in the form of laziness and complacency. But bringing to mind my year of service, rather than eliciting pain in its passing, will offer direction and bearing.
That has been the hardest part about this transition, trying not to grasp for that which has passed, but to apply what I learned and felt in Jamaica to the present while remaining connected to those people and places, not distant.
It’s an impossibly fine balance to strike, and I almost hate to do this because of the cliché, but Bob Marley might have put these feelings most succinctly in saying “the winds that sometimes take something we love, are the same that bring us something we learn to love.” Getting on the plane to leave Jamaica was nothing short of indescribable, my life being torn between what I had come to love in Jamaica and what I had merely known in the United States. It is my hope that this time of Lent will continue to allow me to learn that my time spent there and relationships forged can be used to direct my life in ways to know that same sense of peace and fulfillment I found on the island.