Us liturgical Christians are in the middle of Lent, a penitential season marked by prayer, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for Easter. It recalls the forty days that Christ spent fasting in the desert, in preparation for his ministry (Matthew 4:1-2).
It’s the season that I struggle the most with, where I can feel a bit lost and bewildered in my own desert. It’s not much different, really, from what the characters in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya experience during the infamous Endless Eight story arc.
In that arc, the characters realize that they are stuck in a time loop, with the same summer week endlessly repeating itself, and that they need to find the missing clue to ending it. Each of the eight episodes represent one loop. But unlike most stories that explore a Groundhog Day-esque scenario, the characters don’t retain memories of the previous loop. What this means is that, for eight episodes in a row, the same events repeat themselves with only minor variations in detail to distinguish themselves.
It’s a brazen attempt at taking the audience outside of their comfort zone, testing their patience and turning the act of watching the show into a kind of self-inflicted punishment.
Which is how Lent can feel for me: a time of self-denial, yes, but also one where it can seem like I’m going nowhere and not coming out of it a better Christian. Last year I made a resolution to not read any fiction and, in its place, took up some spiritual reading that I had meant to get around to for some time. My reading material on the subway became more edifying than usual, but it felt as though I had merely rearranged my backlog of books a bit. I think part of me was hoping that something I’d read would fire me up and spiritually reinvigorate me. But when I went to Confession, it was just the usual litany of the same old boring sins popping up again, just like an episode of the Endless Eight recapitulating the same stuff yet again.
Nevertheless, I do think there’s some value to be found here. I may not have a map of the desert, and I may not find anything tangible there, but it’s clear that I’m being called there by God, and that at least a part of me wants to answer. Like the Haruhi Suzumiya fan who suffers through all those episodes, there’s some degree of devotion involved. And that can sometimes flower into something bigger.
I’m afraid I don’t have any deeper Lenten thoughts than that! Sometimes you just have to wander outside your comfort zone and see what happens.