Learning to Die: A Lenten Discipline

I spent Valentine’s weekend at the Loretto Motherhouse in Nearinx, Kentucky on a silent retreat with a group from school. This is part of the story that unfolded that weekend.

I dug my hands deeper into my coat pockets. Grey clouds hung low as I trudged along the gravel road. I was fifteen long hours into the silence, wandering by myself through winter fields.

Death was everywhere. Bare trees trembled in the wind. The woods were carpeted with inches of leaves. Corn fields had long been harvested, leaving rows of shorn stalks poking out of cracked, frozen ground. I stepped into a field of prairie grasses bent low and heard their shafts crackle under my boots.

Winter felt like it had swallowed the world whole, and there was no life beyond it. Just below her icy fingers, however, the earth was teeming.

We’ve spent almost a month talking about soil in one of my classes. (That’s what happens when you study environmental justice.) Plants don’t grow well because they’re plants. They grow because they’re planted in rich soil—created by the breakdown of organic matter. When plants die in winter, they’re making way for spring. They’re offering themselves to be broken apart so that spring’s new growth can be better than before.

Sometimes things have to die before they can live again.

The words echoed in the quiet.

Oh. So that’s what you want me to do.

I’d been praying about a big decision, but truth be told, I knew the answer. I just didn’t want it. I didn’t want the death that it would cost.

I heard it over and over again last week: Lent is a season of death. It’s a time for us to remember who we are. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” the liturgy tells us. So for Lent, we take up death as a discipline. We learn the hard work of dying with Christ at the expense of our flesh and our desires.

Death is not a cheap price to pay, but sometimes we have to pay it anyway.

Sometimes things have to die before they can live again.

Sometimes I have to die before I can live again.

We are resurrection people, yes. And there are fifty days of Easter resurrection feasting on the other side of our Lenten death. But we are people of resurrection by way of crucifixion. Life by way of death. So for today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, I am learning how to die.

But even in death, I hear him whisper resurrection.