Thoughts on Lent by David Layman

The season of‘ “Lent“ in the church year is so named, because it comes at the time of year when the sun  light begins to lengthen.  It marks 40 days before Easter, celebrating the resurrection of Christ.   As a teenager I heard many say “What are you going to “give up” for Lent?”  the Catholics at least in Milwaukee where we lived were to only eat fish on Fridays—no other meat!   Some would make vows to give up sweets.  What are you giving up for Lent?  Was a question I often heard.

While it is true that a number of lives could be enriched should we successfully be able to give up certain things, this may encourage the general public in leading to the popular misconception that becoming a Christian is a matter of giving up certain substances or vices.

One doesn’t hear much of Helen Keller any more, but she surely was one of the most inspirational figures of the past hundred plus years.  Helen Keller was born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama, in a white frame cottage.  Her father was the editor of a newspaper and related to prominent southern families.  Her mother was related to prominent New England families.  Helen as an infant was baptized at the Tuscumbia Presbyterian Church.  As a child, an illness, perhaps scarlet fever, struck Helen before she learned to speak.  The illness left Helen deaf and blind, and she was a wild and unruly child, with little comprehension of the world around her.  When Helen was 6, Miss Anne Sullivan, a 20 year old teacher of the blind, who had regained her own sight through a series of operations, had come to the Kellers through the sympathetic interest of Alexander Graham Bell.  The amazing story how Anne Sullivan broke through the dark world of young Helen Keller is told in the play and film “The Miracle Worker”.

Our family once visited the Keller family home in Alabama, and we’ve seen the water pump where Helen first learned to spell the word “water” as water flowed over her hand.    My father years ago got to hear Helen Keller speak in person.  Helen Keller not only learned sign language, she learned to talk, managed to enter Radcliffe at the age of 20 and graduated cum laude at 24.  She wrote books, travelled the world and was an inspiration to many.  In the  spirit of the 92nd Psalm, Helen Keller said:

“For three things I thank God every day of my life:

That He has vouchsafed me knowledge of His works,

Deep thanks that He has set in my darkness the lamp of Faith,

Deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to,

A life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song.”  (The Open Door, Helen Keller)

Helen Keller could not see, and could not hear.  What a bleak and frightening world her early childhood must have consisted of!   But yet God’s love broke through to her in her darkness, through the efforts of family and teacher Anne Sullivan.  She could smell flowers and feel and touch water and sense the textures of God’s creation.  Helen Keller was grateful that God “has set in my darkness the lamp of Faith.”  Faith is a gift of God.  Helen Keller’s darkness was a literal darkness, for she was blind.  Helen Keller once said “I am happy because I believe in God.”  Many with literal sight in our day and time have no faith in God, and also have precious little happiness!  Many have an abundance of material blessings, and no happiness!  And Helen expressed her deepest thanksgiving “that I have another life to look forward to”.  The Christian believer lives with a great hope!

In the 11th chapter of Hebrews, the author reviews faithful descendants of Abraham who died in faith, who were “strangers and pilgrims on the earth“.  They “seek a homeland“, “they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country“.  And God has “prepared a city for them“, that is, heaven.  As Helen Keller said, “I have another life to look forward to.”  For that, we who believe in Christ can be most thankful!  Jesus gave His life on the cross for our sins, that we might have the hope of life everlasting!

It’s interesting that while our modern culture often disparages the Christian faith, modern culture tends toward pessimism and a lack of hope for this life or a life to come.  Helen Keller believed that out of the dark soil and struggles of today, bright flowers and heaven would burst forth.  The modern pessimist offers no flowers, only more dirt!  Believers in Christ view life as a pilgrimage from earth to heaven, from suffering and oppression to freedom.

Reuel Howe was a profound Christian thinker who was traveling one day and became engaged in conversation with the man sitting next to him.  The man asked what Dr. Howe did.  He didn’t want to say he was a pastor, since he wasn’t serving in a church, or a teacher, since that would take some explaining.  So he simply said “I’m a pilgrim.”  The surprised man responded “I thought they were all dead!”  Dr. Howe went on to say “I am on a pilgrimage from birth to life.”  Not birth to death, but birth to life!

We should all be on that pilgrimage!  As Easter approaches, may the light we live by be increasing as well.  Because of the cross and resurrection of Christ, we need not live in increasing darkness and death.   We have much to be thankful for.  Even if we have lost loved ones in the last year. Even if we face health challenges.  Even as Helen Keller came to comprehend, she could not see, and she could not hear.  But she experienced the water of life flowing over her little hand in her back yard.  She became a Pilgrim on a journey from birth to life.  In her darkness God brought to her the lamp of Faith!  She came to understand she had the light of a new, heavenly life to look forward to.  It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to His name!