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Are you familiar with VR? It stands for virtual reality and people, especially young people or tech-y people (like those who fill my house) really like VR. The most mainstream VR experience – because it is definitely an experience – comes by way of a VR headset. When you strap a VR headset around your head, over your eyes, you can suddenly enter into all kinds of other 3-D realities.

VR viewers may “go to see” lions on the African plains, or stroll through a lush, Brazilian rainforest. They may ride a roller coaster, go mountain biking, or even experience white water rafting! The 3-D viewing experience makes it so real that people believe they can reach out and actually touch a lion, their stomachs drop out on a roller coaster’s loop, they think they have been drenched by the white water rapids, and in fact they may cling “to the side of the raft” for dear life, though it may really be the armchair they are sitting in.

Thanks to my husband, I have seen some hilarious videos of people experiencing VR headsets for the first time. They reach out to touch things. They gasp. They exclaim. They shout! They even duck and cover, flinch, and respond appropriately to whatever they are encountering through the headsets. Their responses are very real (and they are very goofy-looking to those watching on the outside).

When I was substitute teaching in the middle school, one STEM teacher regularly used VR headsets as student motivators. If students were well-behaved and finished their work, they would be allowed to use the VR headsets. One time, a half day and the last day before Christmas Break, the class periods were so short that each class had only enough time to play a game using iPads and VR headsets, Attack of the Squirrels. The students were giddy about it and spent the last minutes before Christmas Break “throwing nuts” at one another in a reality that I was not able to see. It was pretty funny to watch, though.

I learned that the main rule while using VR headsets, and I have heard this in and outside of the school, is that you must sit down when wearing the headset. Otherwise people are likely to walk into walls, fall down stairs, and generally injure themselves in very ridiculous ways- while experiencing another reality- in their very own living rooms.

The message here? Virtual reality might be virtual, simulated by a computer, but it seems very, very real.

As many of you know, the church has recently entered into the liturgical season of Lent, forty days approaching Jesus’ death on the cross. Forty days during which we purposefully consider the reality of our sinfulness. This ‘other’ Lenten reality that we participate in annually, is kind of like VR. Nothing actually changes about who or how we are, but during Lent, with the mindset that we “strap on,” our sinfulness seems that much more real. Maybe even flinch-ably so.

Lent seems almost like a lens, or a headset, through which we see differently, and focus in, intentionally, on this particular aspect of our faith. Beginning with Ash Wednesday just this week, we see all the more vividly that we are not much without the cross. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” intones the pastor, marking our foreheads with gritty, cross-shaped ash. And wearing this new reality, we now move day by day toward the cross, more acutely aware in our sinfulness, that without the cross we are nothing.

We will hold this new, vivid Lenten reality carefully for the season. Let us sit down, and take care, to not only witness the new reality we are in, but to respond to the words that ring in our ears, “Repent, and believe the Gospel.”

Whether you are used to abstaining from something during Lent, or alternatively you might take on a new practice of some kind during the season. Whatever you do, or don’t do, I would encourage you to attend to this season with eyes and hearts carefully and humbly in tune with the new-different-other reality of journeying toward the cross.

And I hope you might exclaim with surprise and with joy over the reality that we live with daily, but see new in Lent, that we have a savior.

Header photo by Thanti Riess on Unsplash

VR headset photo by Hammer & Tusk on Unsplash

Ashes photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

Katy Sundararajan

Katy enjoys writing here at the Reformed Journal about the small things that give us pause and point us to great wonder, the things that make our hearts glad and remind us of where our hope comes from. You can find more of Katy’s writing through Words of Hope free daily devotionals, and in Guideposts’ All God’s Creatures: Daily Devotions for Animal Lovers. Give Katy a good book, a pretty view, or a meal around the table with laughing people and she’ll say, “All is well.”

One Comment

  • Kent Fry says:

    Thank you Katy for your reflection. In previous centuries, I think the stain glass windows of a church were meant to be a sort of virtual reality. In other words, you entered the church and saw the world through a new reality, the real reality, of the cross and the resurrection and the life of Christ rather than the ways of the world. And the liturgical calendar is meant to help us mark time by the real time rather than the secular clock. Like any technology, virtual reality will undoubtedly used for sinister purposes which we must have the eyes to see and the minds to discern.

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