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Were You There: “Is It Scary?”

Maria Lenten_featured image

Editor’s note: What do escape rooms and the 14th Station of the Cross have in common? NSLP alumna Maria Beben reflects on how Lent—with all its uncertainty, waiting, and unknowns—calls us to greater trust and community.

As one of my part-time jobs, I work at Surelocked In Escape Games in Frederick, Maryland. For those of you who aren’t familiar with an escape room, it’s a live-action group challenge. Participants are placed in a themed room where they must solve a series of riddles and puzzles in order to find the story item, sometimes the key to unlock the main door. Each room tells a different story and provides a different mission.

What do escape rooms have to do with Lent? Well, on the surface, not very much. But bear with me. The longer I’ve worked there, I’ve started to notice certain trends with customers. When explaining how the rooms work to people who have never heard of an escape room, the same two questions almost always gets posed: “Is it scary?” and “What if you don’t get out?” I can see the relief on some of the customer’s faces as I tell them that they are free to exit the room at any point if they choose to do so and yes, of course, even if you don’t win you can still leave.

As I reflected on the frequency of these two questions, my mind wandered, as it tends to do, to the abstract. Most people don’t like being afraid. Most people don’t like the unknown. People like safety and guarantees. As soon as people understand more about what they’re getting into and realize it’s under their control, their minds are at ease again. They know what to expect.

This train of thought made me think of Lent, especially the 14th station where Jesus is laid in the tomb.

As far as anyone present knew, the stone rolled in front of Jesus’ tomb was the ultimate act of finality. It was over. He was gone. The women and the disciples didn’t have the assurance or comfort surrounding the crucifixion that we have today. 2,000 years after the fact, we know what to expect from Lent before it even starts. We know that the 40 days of waiting will result in the glorious Resurrection and celebration of Easter.

The Stations of the Cross are made more powerful by the knowledge that the Resurrection awaits. But what if the story stopped there? What if, like the women at the foot of the cross and the disciples, we had lived the Passion in real time? What if the sun had set on Good Friday without the promise of Easter Sunday? What if the darkness of that night had no guarantee of being dispelled?

Lent is a time of waiting, a time of discipline, and a time of sacrifice. Lent can be incredibly challenging. But thankfully, we don’t have to do it alone. In the escape rooms, I’ve seen that it’s really not possibly to successfully complete a mission unless the group is in constant dialogue and agreement. The “every man for himself” mentality only results in group failure. In the same way, Lent is a lot more bearable if we invite others on our journey and walk with them on theirs too. If we invite God into our lives, He walks with us and helps us roll away the stones in our lives in order to let the light of salvation in.

Reflection question: In the face of the unknown, how can you practice trust in God’s plan rather than fearing the closed doors and the stones in your own life?

Originally from a small rural town in New Jersey, Maria graduated from the Catholic University of America with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a minor in theology and religious studies. After spending a semester abroad in Rome, Maria felt a call towards service and simple living. Franciscan spirituality resonates with her, and she looks at the year ahead of her with enthusiasm and gratitude. During her time in college, Maria fell in love with Washington, DC and is excited to have the opportunity to continue to explore the nation’s capital. The Nonprofit Servant Leadership Program gives her the opportunity to learn about a non-profit organization while serving in the community with other like-minded young adults.