A Dried up Pen: A Lenten Reflection

Posted: February 21, 2013 in Things of Faith

Darkness (Photo credit: Roberto F.)


Recently I have been struggling with a couple of things. First it seems I have lost the ability to reflect in any meaningful way. And secondly, words just don’t seem to come as easily as they used to come. Now this may not seem like any real problem, but for a person who spends a majority of time engaging people, counseling and wrestling with faith issues, this is highly problematic. Even as I sit here in from of my laptop screen, I’m not exactly sure what it is that I should reflect upon. It’s like writing in a journal when your pen runs out of ink and there are no more pens at hand. In such cases, one is left with blank pages and no means of communicating.


Yet I suppose it is more than this. Not only is it the inability to write anything meaningful, but it is about not having anything to say in the first place. Since when does a pastor, teacher, husband and father have nothing to say? Small talk is easy. I’ve spent a lifetime gathering useless information about semi-interesting subjects which have no real consequence in my context.


It seems like recently I have become more conscious of the deep brokenness and pain that surrounds me as people grasp for hope in the midst of this dark existence. For many it has become the status quo that makes life real. If it were stripped away they would be overwhelmed by a fear of nothingness. For a few, the pain goes even deeper with no seemingly way out. While on the other hand, for even fewer, there is a bright and shining light at the end of this dark cave we call life.


For the past couple of weeks I have joined my church with meditating on Colossians 3:12-17. Each week we are centering upon one verse from which the weekly sermon is derived. This week is verse 13. In a nutshell this verse is about forbearance and forgiveness. It feels like I preach on these topics continuously. They keep coming up over and over again. Each time I am reminded why that tunnel is so dark. For the most part the darkness is the result of neglected and broken relationships and the way the effects are acted out upon the people around us. It’s overwhelming!


I think that this is one of the reasons I am in a proverbial desert. I am overwhelmed. In the midst of all the turmoil I am searching for answers. As I stumble in the darkness I am looking and grasping for something to light the pathway. For some reason I have lost sight of that light at the end of the tunnel. Oh, I know it’s there (intellectually). My problem is that right now I’m not feeling it. The images that come to my mind are Jesus at Gethsemane, various desert fathers, John of the Cross and so on. In this I am reminded that I am not alone. In fact it is in times like these I depend most upon the brothers and sisters around me. Perhaps my pen going dry during Lent is the most appropriate time for this to occur. Unfortunately during a time when reflection is most needed and beneficial, feeling lost in a tunnel without so much as a candle, leaves one grasping for matches.


  1. Scott Holland says:

    Well, if you read the blogging Brethren revivalists they would argue the blue funk might be related to the “unscriptural,” non-biblical acceptance of Lent. It is likely seasonal as good pagans knew. As Brockway said, February is bad for many of us. Here at what begins to feel like “the God Factory” for even our best students in February, many have been unusually blue. Although I’m a liberal ecumenist, I did wonder if getting smeared with ashes on the forehead at Ash Wednesday seminary chapel didn’t make the funk worse. As some of my non-ideological Ohio Brethren people used to say, “Oh, life is already so filed with sadness, sorrow, sickness and death so why re-symbolize it with ashes in a somber service?” I know, I know, we are in ritual solidarity with Jesus. But when even words no longer flow, why not follow Jesus to the wedding reception in Galilee where we have friends in low church places, where the fellowship drowns, and the wine chases all our blues away? I doubt if Jesus would be jazzed by Lent. He was far lest earnest and more ironic than most of us.

  2. Andrew says:

    Scott, thanks for your comments. While I’m not sure I would categorize the Dunker Journal as a blog (simply because the nature of blogging is about opening conversation and that site leaves no room for conversation only disseminating their dogmatic opinion), I am aware of their argument that Lenten practices are not biblical. However, I would disagree with them most heartily on that point because scripture is full of seasons of fasting, of which Lent most certainly is a prime example. Jesus himself instructs that after his departure that there would be appropriate times of fasting. I also think that while Josh is certainly correct that this time of year can bring on S.A.D. for a number of reasons including mournful experiences, that the practice of the Lenten fast works two-fold in that on the one hand we do come into solidarity with Christ’s suffering and on the other with this journey of solidarity we do in fact follow Jesus not simply to the cross but most importantly to the celebratory feast of resurrection on Easter. The early twentieth century spiritual guide, Baron Friedrich von Hugel, once wrote that there can be “no joy without suffering and no life without death.” And I whole-heartedly agree with you that Jesus wouldn’t be so jazzed about Lent simply because he lived the crime of humanity against him. I think that it is necessary for believers to not just be in solidarity for this but also I think that this practice is formative in bringing believers to points of remorse for our contribution to the cross and other human suffering. I think that it is in this that believers come to more fully appreciate God’s forgiveness and grace.

  3. Scott Holland says:

    Thanks Andrew. Nice response. So, you read von Hugel? Did you know that my colleague David Johns, here at BTS/ESR, wrote his PhD dissertation on Baron von Hugel? David and I both read him in our doctoral programs at Duquesne. Since we won’t duck suffering in this life I suppose it’s useful to proclaim there is no joy without suffering but I’m happy for joy that comes in moments of grace void of suffering.

    • Andrew says:

      Scott, it’s nice to know there are other brethren who’ve read the baron’s work. I had the pleasure of perusing his library and writings while doing post-grad work at St. Andrews. And I too would much prefer the grace of joy without suffering; unfortunately I have yet to meet a person who has had that privilege.

  4. Scott Holland says:

    Yes, I appreciate Catholic writers of mysticism and spirituality, like the Baron. I recently directed a thesis on suffering, darkness and death which drew heavily from John of the Cross and Julian.

    However, interestingly, I have also recently directed theses on spirituality as eros and on the “bad narrative” of the sacrificial theory of the atonement and the unnecessary suffering this story produces for those who freely enter it.

    I suspect that both Catholics and Anabaptists have over-mythologized the necessity and the virtues of redemptive suffering. In fact, several of us in the Anabaptist scholars guild have noted how suffering and thanatos is quite eroticized in the Martyrs Mirror and in the writings of many suffering mystics.

    Eros and Thanatos dance together in the human psyche, soul and body. However, I fear we tell too many spiritual stories that truly invite and romanticize the shadow of Thanatos because Eros is too edgy for us.

    In my many years of pastoring I’ve had several parishioners formed and informed by old atonement theories which demand sacrificial suffering and denial of desire for the righteous. The old brothers, (and it is almost always the brothers, not the sisters) in critiquing my sermons, have declared, “I don’t come to church to feel good. I want my preacher to take me to the woodshed!” I’ve answered, “Then your model and metaphor for God is a scolding father as disciplinarian rather than a nurturing parent hoping his children know more happiness than suffering in this blessed broken world?” Ah, as Paul Ricouer insisted, “We live only what we imagine.”

  5. Joshua Brockway says:

    Seems to me that the trick here is that Lent is a season, and not the whole of the Good News. This is why 1) I don’t give things up for Lent and 2) continually remind people that they are not to fast on Sunday, even during Lent- its a Sunday, and as such it is a feast day!

    Yet, even Jesus- whose very being was about bringing and restoring life- entered the desert for 40 days. Does that mean we all need to be taken to the woodshed every Sunday- of course not. And yet, there are seasons of fasting to reframe and reorient. This, however, is not the whole of the gospel but a waypoint in the larger journey for restoration, resurrection and feasting.

    I think what the new ways of thinking about atonement miss is that death is still part of the mix. As the east reminds us- the whole of the incarnation redeems us, including death and resurrection. It’s too easy to spiritualize restoration and ignore that death happens. But reframing the narrative towards resurrection is necessary for us westerners. Its not the cross, but the whole deal- life, death, and new life. Microcosmic cycles of that same rhythm are part of the journey though.

    Though I hate February- I go through it every year. And as a family member rightly reminded me, February was also the month my grandfather survived a heart attack and is the same month my twin cousins were born. Life, death, misery, celebration, fasting and feast are held together.

  6. Andrew says:

    Thanks Josh for the comment. Well said.

    • Scott Holland says:

      Yes, Josh. I too can live within this theological vision. I’m teaching Hesse’s Siddhartha this week in Narrative Theology. Many readers see this as merely a story of Eastern spirituality. It is far, far more interesting. Hesse was from a distinguished line of Pietist medical and theological missionaries. Our CoB missions in Africa and Asia worked and still along side these Pietists of the Basel Missions (Now Mission 21). Hesse, like many intellectual Pietists, moved in the direction of German Romanticism. However, how to deal with desire and DEATH, bliss and BROKENNESS, satiation and SUFFERING became pressing existential questions. In turning east in composing the story Hesse is seeking to philosophize and theologize and overcome Western dualisms. Instead of working with these tensions within the context of the Eastern Church, which he as a Protestant Pietist didn’t know, he worked with narratives in Eastern religions, which as the son and grandson of foreign missionaries he knew rather well. Carl Jung, by the way, helped him with these cosmic, human and spiritual rhythms during personal therapy in Zurich.

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