Lent is a "penitential" season, that is, it's a time to reflect on what needs healing in our lives and to make the changes ("repentance") necessary to achieve that healing (or growth, or improvement, etc.).
Of course, we need not limit our efforts to improve our lives to the Lenten Season. And, we don't need to confuse self-evaluation with guilt, shame, or self-hatred. At Sunshine Cathedral you don't hear a lot of talk about sin. Sin is "missing the mark" and we don't "hit" the mark by focusing on mistakes, failures, and regrets. What we focus on we drift toward and what we believe in we are likely to experience, so why would we ever call ourselves sinners or spend too much energy focusing on sin?
I've said over and over (as Bishop John S. Spong has said for decades) that we never fell from perfection; we are still evolving toward it. Lent isn't for me a time to focus on sinfulness but on our innate goodness. We don't need to be saved from ourselves; we need to grow into our divine potential.
I don't understand the divine to be punishing, harsh, demanding atonement, or keeping a record of rights and wrongs.
The divine Presence, in my understanding and experience, is that universal power of Love which spins worlds into being, which connects and flows through all life, and that is best honored by our joy, our compassion, and our goodwill (not by our shame, guilt, and fear).
For a couple of years now I have been working on my attitudes toward food and exercise, my belief in my physical goodness, and my divine right to feel good in and about my body. It's been a slow process, but I have lost 27 pounds, I've lost 3.5 inches in the middle, 2 inches in the neck, and I've gained inches in my chest, shoulders, biceps, calves, and thighs (lean tissue, not fat). In the process, my overall health has also improved (better cholesterol, better sleep, more energy, etc.). I made changes (I "repented") in my attitudes and habits, and I didn't give up when progress was slow, and as a result, things started to improve.
What I am achieving in my body we can all achieve - not just with our waistlines or blood pressure, but with our relationships, our finances, our mental health, our spiritual growth...whatever needs healing or improvement, if we will dare to examine it and make healthy changes, we can make a positive difference in our lives and in the lives of others.
Improvement can be done without guilt, shame, fear, or cowering before a tyrannical image of a cosmic Being. This is a season, not of guilt and self-flagellation, but of hope, encouragement, positive thinking, and healing. The repentance (change) can be positive, nurturing, and joyous.
I invite you to allow Lent to be a time of growth and healing. Worship, study, pray, give...not to appease an angry God, but to allow the Love we call God to flourish in our life and to bless us abundantly. And may our shared Lenten journey bring us all to Easter joy! Amen.