Second Week of Lent: February 21-27
Reflection - Alyssa Mallgrave
Somehow, in a weird way, Lent has become my favorite time of year. It’s the refreshing stability of rules and rituals. It’s the way that winter’s thawing into spring mirrors our hearts as we move toward Easter. It’s the challenge of tangible fasting and existential honesty. There’s a lot at play here – I love it all. And each Lent, I find myself revisiting one of my favorite short stories, Flannery O’Connor’s Revelation.
In this story, we meet Mrs. Turpin, a woman understood to be ugly both inside and out. Brutally bigoted, condescending, and self-righteous, Mrs. Turpin takes cruel joy in the belief that she is fundamentally better than the people surrounding her. We meet her before and during a life-changing encounter that shakes her to her wicked core, leaving her rethinking everything she thinks she knows about herself. After a stranger sees her for who she really is and calls her to “go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” Mrs. Turpin finds herself questioning God:
“What do you send me a message like that for?” she said in a low fierce voice, barely above a whisper but with the force of a shout in its concentrated fury. “How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?”
That line – a hog and me both, saved and from hell too – speaks to the paradox of the human condition. We are capable of so much good. People so often do things for this world and each other that are sacrificial, profound, and wonderfully inspiring. And yet, in almost the same breath, we are also masterfully wicked and destructive. While we want to condemn her, in our most honest moments, we know that the wretched Mrs. Turpin is all of us.
It's uncomfortable to watch Mrs. Turpin as she has this humiliating realization, but as painful and startling as it is for her, it's also a moment of profound grace.
This revelation is the essence of Lent. During this season, we are asked to be honest about who we really are, and to wrestle with our paradoxical nature. It reminds us that as capable and powerful as we might be, we are not God, and there are so many things that we cannot fix. It helps us recognize and come to terms with our own shortcomings and need for grace.
And, in a tricky way, Lent is a kind of grace in itself. Like Mrs. Turpin’s little crisis, we are so much better off having experienced this season and confronted our sin and mortality. Here and now, Lent prepares our hearts for the joy of the Easter feast, and in a greater way, it prepares us for the Kingdom we look forward to.
That’s probably why I love Lent so much: it’s the perfect gift insofar as I’m constantly surprised by how much I really, really need it.
To read more Lenten reflections, visit our Lent/Easter page and download our Lent Prayerbook to follow along with us this season!