That God might be imagined as chaotic and creative, as well as ordered and complete, is perhaps not a new idea in human
history, but it became quite apparent to me only a few years ago. My husband, three children, and I had traveled to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area to visit friends in a religious community. As part of our entertainment, our hosts took us into the city to
the Omni Theater, an educational facility attached to the Science Museum. There, in a large oval auditorium with steeply banked seats, surrounded on all sides and above by a domed projection screen, we witnessed the current natural science program. It was entitled “Ring of Fire” and documented, in a most vivid way, the activity of the volcanic range that rims the entire Pacific basin. We were visually and auditorially submerged in the hot, fiery eruptions that
constitute the Pacific ring of volcanoes.
What the film presentations made very clear was that this tumultuous, destructive energy was the very energy that seethed at the core of our earth, the very energy at the root source of all earthly life. Creation itself was not ultimately stable, not orderly in some
static way; rather order or temporary calm alternated with this chaotic dance of shifting energy, destruction, emergence, and upheaval. It occurred to me there, with my seven-year-old son pressed close against my arm to assure himself of some dependable, protective presence in the face of the larger-than-life spewing volcanoes that surrounded him, that if we are to allow the created world to speak analogously of the divine to us, then God as creative principle was probably as much like this tumult of flaming lava and bursting steam as God was like a lush, fruit-filled garden watered by crystal streams. And that the process of growing into God’s image was as aptly pictured by the wild creativity of the ring of fire as it was by Dante’s luminous globes of pearl or Hildegard’s circles of celestial singers.
The forty days of Lent celebrate the dismembering, disequilibrium, and dying that are preludes to the creative transformation of Eastertide. It is a season of being changed and emptied so that new life might come to birth in us and resurrection be found in us as well.
I admit that most people do not immediately associate Lent with fiery eruptions. It is more typical to see the season as an opportunity for self-discipline or spiritual enrichment. The ancient custom of giving up things for forty days is deeply ingrained in the Christian psyche. Roman Catholics still forego little luxuries like sweets or movie-going or more pernicious luxuries like alcohol or tobacco. Eastern Orthodox Christians still observe the ancient food abstinences from meat, fish, eggs, and milk products. Further, Lent is seen as a time of seriousness. Churches of all denominations offer programs of prayer and scripture study. Wednesday soup suppers followed by prayer services are common, as are programs focused on healing. Churches may sponsor a “Talent Project,” “One Great Hour of Sharing,” or “Rice Bowl” collections. To deepen one’s faith during Lent through study, charitable activity, or contemplative exercise is quite a common practice. These may not be activities of volcanic proportions, but their practice has much in common with the molten energy seething under the Pacific ring of fire. Both change things. And Lent is about change: of heart, of perspective, of focus, of the death that precedes new life.
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