Thinking today about Lent and faith.
It’s been years since I attended mass or gave something up for Lent. As a child in Catholic school, I always gave up something, usually cookies. My Dad, patient man that he was, always let us indulge on Sundays, so I would eat as many cookies that one day a week as I could get away with. When I was a kid, Lent meant only this giving up of something and the countdown to Easter chocolate. We did go to church a little more often: Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday plus a few extra visits to go through the Stations of the Cross or to make confession. Still, the season wasn’t overly spiritual for me.
I am no longer a Catholic and most would not even consider me a Christian, but Lent means more to me now than it ever did. I appreciate this time set aside each year to encourage reflection and devote time to prayer. Every religion seems to have this time in the calendar.
Because I don’t go to church, my Lenten reflection almost never coincides completely with the actual season. Seeing folks around town with ashes smeared on their foreheads reminds me that time is coming, but I’m usually still off. I’m inspired by the signs of spring to begin my reflections. The dirty snow, the mud, the gray days. After a long season of leafless trees and rock hard soil, I see the messy transition where things start softening up as the time to pause. William Carlos William’s poem “spring and all” is my chant. I like to look deep into the messiness, the chaos, the darkness of the early spring, before the tulips bring color back into the world. Lent in the Northeast United States is at this perfect muddy time where there is promise of pink and green to come if we can just get through the brown and gray.
When I walk through the newly moist earth, still littered with dirt covered ice in spots, I am inspired to pause, to see the coming of goodness, the coming of joy, the coming of spring. And I am grateful for this sloppy walk and would not wish to skip over it straight to the tulips. We need to have our shoes sink in. We need to feel the rough bark on the fallen branches littering the backyard. We have to walk through this wind and icy rain.
That is Lent to me. The late winter, early spring mess that signals rebirth is on the way. It is amid this seeming waste that we take the time to see the slow quickening of earth.