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Lent, fear of freedom, and love of slavery

Lent is hurtling toward us. This realization usually raises a sense of dread. The late great Fr. Alexander Schmemann may once have described Lent as “bright sadness,” but too often it seems neither bright nor sad. Rather, it often seems grey and glum. The extra liturgies and activities quickly come to seem like so many burdens, leading us (once the first flush of “this isn’t so bad!” has passed, usually before the end of the second week) to spend most of our time grimly glancing at the calendar: “how many days until Easter?”

This year, however, I am trying to think of Lent in a very different way. It seems to me more profitable to conceive of Lent not in terms of “how much fasting must we do?” or “which extra services shall we take on?” Rather, I am going to focus on this question: “In which areas am I unfree, and why do I prefer this slavery to freedom?”

Some might find it shocking that we often prefer to be unfree. But two rather prominent Jewish writers think that is indeed the case. The first of these is St. Paul. If, as he says, “for freedom Christ has set us free” why then must Paul’s very next sentence be an exhortation to us to “stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1)? Surely he wouldn’t have told us to flee slavery unless….we secretly prefer its yoke at least some of the time?

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