What is the story of all this then? What is this little corner of the internet all about?
Well… it began several Christmases ago.
I like countdowns. I like traditions like Advent that bring us home to Jesus, home to ourselves; Home to the settled-content-alive selves, the selves we miss most of the rest of the year in our frenetic everyday existence. This one Christmas season, several years ago was so busy, so demanding that at any other time of year I would have been quite undone. But I wasn’t. Advent, the daily anticipation and reflection towards Christmas strengthened and inspired me. I felt the most spiritually alive that I have for months. I was reading an Advent devotional in the mornings, and then we as a family completed the day with a Christmas story each night around the Christmas tree. And we had five different advent calendars all counting down in unison to the same great glorious day, the day when Christ arrived on earth. Christmas lights glowed, carols chorused and anticipation was building to a symphonic crescendo, Christmas day.
And then came boxing day. The countdown was done, the anticipation over, the devotionals completed. Spiritually it felt like a falling off a cliff. The Christmas season had been so rich with meaning for us all as a family that boxing day found us suddenly emptied, hungering for more, dissatisfied with the end of the season, wanting the life to continue. Did we really have to wait another whole year to experience it again? I thirsted for it, hungered for it… hunted through daily devotionals, rummaged through Christian blogs, downloads, devotionals and books.
And then I stumbled upon it… the old church calendar sitting in a dusty corner of the internet. After Christmas comes Epiphany and after Epiphany, Lent leading right up to the doorstep of Easter.
I’ve never observed these old church holidays. Never really understood them. I wasn’t raised in a traditional church community. From my limited experience of them they appeared to me like a beautiful antique relic, something to be approached with awe and hush and hands behind backs. I didn’t know they could speak, until I started to listen. Until God started to speak to us through them.
God began speaking to us through Epiphany, opening our eyes to see, calling us to let go and rest and trust. I scribbled and scratched these thoughts on my blog (seeingbreathingliving.com) trying to hold each moment and live each lesson, making it stay in my everyday day-to-day from that moment to this.
And then as Epiphany ended and Lent began, as people on Wednesday wore Ash on their foreheads It dawned on me like an epiphany; could seeing be a spiritual discipline? In the old church calendar Epiphany leads to Lent just as seeing (an eye-opening epiphany) must lead to the discipline of living with eyes wide open. I began to wonder… could Lent actually be a sort of fasting from blindness, a spiritual discipline of making seeing a habit? The spiritual discipline of living with eyes wide open?
And then a realisation found me; Lent might be for Easter, the equivalent of what Advent was for Christmas, a counting down, an anticipation, a slow road not to the manger, but to and through the cross!
From a distance I had always seen Lent as quite a somber and serious period of fasting and discipline before the joy and (let’s face it) chocolate of Easter. But through the season of Epiphany, as layers of the story of what Jesus was actually doing during His time with dust between his toes on the back streets of Palestine unfolded, I began to wonder if fasting and sombre observance was not the only response.
In Luke 5:33 Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees and Legal experts about why he and his disciples did not fast and pray in the same serious fashion as John the Baptist and his followers the Pharisees. Jesus answers simply, ‘Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?’ (Luke 5:34). Jesus was and is doing a new thing, a new thing worth celebrating. Luke 5 takes place at a party, the first of many parties in Luke’s gospel.
Between Christmas and Easter Jesus is on the dusty road, declaring a new way of seeing to the World. If we should be doing anything at all in the lead up to Easter, shouldn’t we be bending our eyes to see the world through His? Shouldn’t Lent, rather than a somber season of fasting be more of a feasting on His words and a journeying with Him on the dusty roads of Israel, listening to His voice and walking in His footsteps?
As I began to soak in this new way of seeing the Easter Season I also began to feel my way to a new idea; What would it mean to have Lent as a lens through which I saw everything else… Seeing the world through the story of Easter. I began to think of the whole story of Easter as a lens, a lens of spiritual discipline, a walking in joy-filled spiritual discipline alongside Jesus to and through the cross.
And part of this discipline became using my physical lens (my camera and phone) to magnify and capture the story of this walk, as I journey with Jesus all the way through to Gethsemane and Golgotha and the garden tomb. I tried to discipline myself to notice, to listen, to see the small things in the story and in my story day to day. And I captured these through my cameras lens, holding them, making them stay. I used my camera’s aperture to hold these thoughts in light, to capture the story and pin it to my consciousness, reminding my eyes of sight in the days that followed after. I learned to appreciate and give thanks for the details, the graces, the gifts.
This daily photographic challenge I gave myself became the ‘Through Jesus Eyes’ or ‘Lent as a Lens’ challenge (See more about this on the ‘Through Jesus Eyes Challenge’ page).
And it all unfurled as a sort of Advent for Lent, an Eastertide advent, anticipating Easter, anticipating presence with Jesus. And I imagined an Easter advent calendar like a mosaic cross all made up of pictures of the narrative, a whole tumble of meaning and story and scripture.
And my children and I we created not a Christmas tree, but an Easter Tree, a ‘Theolo-Tree’ full of homemade ornaments telling the story, the one story on which all our stories depend (see more about this on the Story Tree page).
All these wild ideas of anticipating Easter took hold of me and filled my mind with joy and excitement and my fingers tapped, typed and wove threads of thought across my computer screen as I wrote the story down, as it wrote itself into my heart…
…And then my computer crashed.
Completely stopped working. Done. At first I thought it was done. I was done, undone by technology. But then I realised that I was free. Free from social media, free from online time-wasting.
I then went old-school with a pen that scratched and scraped thoughts across paper and began to fill old exercise books with story and scripture and a trailing after Jesus, beginning at the beginning of all things and ending in the now and the not yet.
And now, well here it is… well, the beginnings of it. Not a book or a grand thesis, but an invitation to you, to me, to all of us. An invitation to spend this Easter season walking alongside Jesus to and through the cross, an invitation to let go of our everyday eyes for a time and try and see the world through the eyes of Christ, to let Lent be a lens to free us from everyday blindnesses.
And fasting… well lets fast from a lack of fellowship with God, lets fast from drivenness and stress and ambition, lets fast from self righteous and religiosity and give ourselves fully over to the simple Joy of walking with Jesus moment by moment, day by day, week by week.
So this is my invitation to you… a gift for you… the gift of slowing down this Easter and spending it with Him. He who gave us the gift of life through His death.
‘Ask People around the world what they think is the biggest day of the year for Christians. Most will say ‘Christmas’. That’s what our society has achieved: a romantic mid-winter festival (though we don’t actually know what time of year Jesus was born) from which most of the things that really matter (the danger, the politics) are carefully excluded. The true answer- and I wish churches could find ways of making this clear- is Easter. This is the moment of new creation. If it hadn’t been for Easter, nobody would ever have dreamt of celebrating Christmas. This is the first day of God’s new week. The darkness has gone, and the sun is shining.’
Tom Wright, ‘John for Everyone’