"Let us stress once more that the purpose of Lent is not to force on us a few formal
obligations, but to 'soften' our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden 'thirst and hunger' for communion with God."
-Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent
It happens each year. The Christmas season comes to an end, bringing with it the dawn of the short-lived time of Epiphany. Sometime around mid to late January my mind begins to slowly turn to the fast approaching Ash Wednesday and season of Lent. It happens each year, however my heart and mind continue to experience it differently and anew. It is a time of repentance. How does this idea of repentance sound to you? What thoughts and images emerge? These are important questions to wrestle with in order to prepare our hearts and minds to receive what God has in store for us. For our heavenly Father always seeks our good, is always inviting us to rest more securely in His infinite love. It is from intimate knowledge of God’s unconditional love that true repentance emerges. Indeed, the capacity to embrace repentance depends entirely upon one’s image of God.
Our heavenly Father/Mother is ever gently inviting all people into deeper communion within the Trinity. When Jesus proclaims “the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news,” we must remember that these words are “full of grace and truth” and are an invitation into friendship. The Greek word used in the NT and translated as repentance is metanoia, which means change in mind. It is in the spirit of metanoia that Jesus offers us to view our Father, the world, and ourselves differently. It is a refreshing and renewal of the mind, which leads to a change in life. When Jesus says “Repent, and believe.” It is as if he is saying stop living in disbelief and believe in the good news of the nearness of God. Lent is a time for us to remember and to ground our lives more profoundly in the truth of the nearness and goodness of God. It is a time to come home to God and to ourselves as well.
One aspect of the miracle of the Incarnation is the willingness of divinity to fully embrace humanity. But how unwilling we can become to embrace our own humanity! As human beings, we are weak, fickle, and prone to despair. Spiritually speaking, we become blind and fall asleep. Our awareness of this can cause us to despise this part of ourselves. We hide it from ourselves and others. We create new personas to disguise our despairing humanity and pretend that all is well. Oh, the time and energy spent on this futile endeavor which leads only to greater anxiety and despair! But Christ loves our weak humanity! He knows that we are as sheep without a shepherd and has compassion upon us. Therefore, He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are they that mourn” for in His embrace we are comforted and held secure in the kingdom of God. This is one of the gifts of the Lenten season. We are invited to learn to embrace ourselves as we truly are and to “love our own poverty as Jesus loves it.”
To experience God’s intimate embrace and mercy, we must learn to acknowledge and to fully accept ourselves in all truth and humility. Cistercian monk Michael Casey beautifully notes the correlation between the confession of sin and God’s mercy.
To believe that we are without sin (or at least really shameful sins) is to falsify our relationship with God. Somehow, in a manner that baffles human intelligence, it is the awareness of the concrete need for forgiveness that provides us with access to the mercy of God. It is only through the door of mercy that we can find access to the heart of God.” 
If eternal life is knowledge of the only true God and Jesus Christ, then sin can be viewed, in part, as the lack of this knowledge. This ignorance of God is a root of sin, and conversely, it is the knowledge of God, Who is rich in mercy, which is its cure. As we confess our ignorance and sin, Christ readily meets us with open arms. Like the desperate yet hopeful Zaccheus, Christ sees us in our earnest desire, comes to stay with us, and becomes our salvation. It is through confession that we experience God’s forgiveness and mercy and thereby come to a deeper knowledge of His ever-expanding acceptance and love.
Ash Wednesday and Lent are invitations to walk through the “door of mercy” to experience God’s ongoing embrace. It is a time to remind us once again that God is with us and for us, even in–or especially in–the awareness and confession of our sin. May we not shrink in doubt or fear as we sit in consciousness of our sin but let us rather recall to mind the truth of God’s heart and desire, which is to be in communion with us. May we joyfully receive the gifts of God’s mercy and forgiveness this Lenten season.
 Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1969), 31.
 Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1956), 26.
 Michael Casey, Fully Human, Fully Divine: An Interactive Christology (Missouri: Liguori Publications, 2004), 34.