Sometimes, the season of Lent can seem like a heavy, solemn thing, an opportunity for grave reflection and burdensome self-denial. I prefer to think of it as a season of shedding, of simplifying, of lightening the load. If there is renouncing to be done, let it be the renunciation of burdens. The burden of taking oneself too seriously is a good place to start. The burden of our false perception that we are separate from others is a good next step. The letting go of spiritual ambition, which is surely its most pernicious form, is nothing other than a delight when we discover the simple joy of resting in the truth of our humanity. We can carry the burden of a seriousness which is simply a more respectable version of self-importance. Let it go! It does us no good! The recognition of our fallibility is a lovely thing.
I think this is why Jesus urged his hearers to wash their faces and put on a smile when they fast - not just to avoid ostentation, but to be free of the awful weight of pious solemnity. As Anthony Padovano writes in his excellent new book, The Spiritual Genius of Thomas Merton, 'Gravity is a spiritual malady, a symptom of the death of the heart.' To identify one of the roots of our gravity - the ego - he recalls a story of Chuang Tzu, of which Merton was fond: think about the reaction we might have if we are in a boat and another one collides with ours. If someone is in that boat, we may become angry. It is far less likely that we will become angry if that other boat is empty.
Lent is something like the cultivation of an inner 'emptiness' which lets go of the notion that we have some sort of ego to protect. There is nothing there! Our true 'self' is not a precious cargo we carry within us but a spacious emptiness that is in fact a fullness, an emptiness which is nothing less than our capacity to see, to become and to love. The more we fill up that generous spaciousness with ego-stuff, the more we are weighed down with a deadly burden.
So let Lent be a time for laughing fondly at our silliness and letting go of the tiresome need to be 'right' or 'good' or 'successful' or whatever other dutiful expectation plagues us. We don't need ballast (some of us less than others!) to make us more solidly virtuous. We need levity to set us free.