As I look beyond the remnants of winter’s smudges and stains on my window toward an ancient oak tree in the front yard, my excitement swells in response to the inevitable coming of spring. Yes, it’s almost time to get out the buckets and rags to clean said glass, but not quite yet. Grass is more prevalent than snow today. It might be for only a short time, but it is indeed a glorious sight! Buds on the trees and shrubs are becoming visible, like tiny goose bumps on fragile limbs. Their expectant promise of bursting into blossoms and leaves instills hope and the anticipation of change. A stream of water from melting ice and snow lazily flows next to the curb, looking for a place to either create a magnificent puddle or disappear into the storm sewer drain. Lucy, the puppy-girl, bounds around the back yard, thrilled beyond belief as she finds toys that were previously hidden beneath drifts and are now revealed. Her muddy paws remind me that I need to keep a rag close to the door. I thoroughly share her excitement that instead of hard, cold ground we have patches of fragrant wet soil begging for seeds to find their way into them so new life can be established.
Spring. It isn’t here yet, but it doesn’t take much imagination to realize it is close.
It’s a curious thing to ponder the seasons. Winter offers us the opportunity to rest. It is such a joy to pull out a good book, light a fire in the fireplace, find a big blanket and spend the afternoon reading and sipping tea. A similar afternoon six months from now will come during a season that begs us to spend time walking, hiking, canoeing, gardening and experiencing God’s world outside the confines of our homes. Spring and fall let us know that we are approaching change much like a crescendo, or decrescendo, in music. Those seasons whisper to us that it’s coming…it’s coming…it’s coming. Fall slowly winds down the vivid life of summer into the stillness and quiet of winter. Spring wakes us slowly to newness and growth, hoping all the while that additional winter events don’t hit the snooze button, allowing spring to doze in and out of consciousness before it explodes with new life.
In like form the liturgical seasons give us the opportunity to experience God in different ways. We deepen our knowledge of God as we anticipate God’s presence in Advent, we met God in the person of Jesus during the Christmas season and we learn something about God’s plan and purpose for creation during Epiphany. The season of Lent leads us into a quiet time that encourages us to pull away from the routine of life and reflect on who we are in God’s world.
To do so, we have to quiet the voices around us that tell us we have to work harder; be better; do more; eat less; want more; get angry at; support this cause; dispute that cause; and generally run in circles all day trying to achieve whatever it is that our society and culture deem important. Who am I? Who was I created to be? How am I ever going to know, let alone figure it out in a mere 40 days of Lent? Sometimes it’s just easier to let life go on as it does and not confuse the issue with the results of contemplation. Yet, we know if we embrace the opportunity for rest and restoration that winter offers, we are ready for the new life of spring. In like manner, if we allow the season of Lent to wrap around us and guide us toward the hope of the next season, we will be able to get up on Easter morning knowing that we are walking into something new, wonderful and full of life.
You see, Lent is about reflection. It’s about cleaning the mirror so one can see clearly what is reflected back at them – the good stuff, as well as the warts and all that makes them who they are. And, it’s about piecing that knowledge together with what we know about God’s ways to recognize what parts of our lives need to continue as they are and what parts need tweaking.
I gave up shopping for Lent one year. A friend reminded me that Lent is not a diet, which made it completely acceptable in my mind to continue eating the traditionally eliminated vices of chocolate and desserts throughout the season. I had friends who gave up social networking or addictions to online news feeds. Others gave up television or attending parties. I felt like I had to give up something to symbolize my penitence. Shopping popped into my mind and nagged me until I gave in and signed up to avoid the mall. I could still grocery shop or purchase necessities like medications, everyday supplies and toiletries. I could not shop for clothes or frivolous household items. I really like to shop, particularly when moving from the drab colors of winter to the lively hues associated with spring. It would be a challenge to keep from buying adorable new sandals or filling a bag with fabulous seasonal home decorating accents.
The first week was embarrassing when people asked me what I gave up. I joked about being shallow or not having a transgression worse than shopping. However, by the time the season was over, I was able to clearly see the disproportionate place shopping absorbed in my life and that I needed to tame it. It wasn’t about the money I spent as much as it was about the power I allowed advertising and material things to control me. I was looking for comfort and acceptance…but I wasn’t looking in the right direction.
Lent, like winter, is a season that begs us to stop for a moment. Then, just as winter gives way to spring, Lent urges us to turn toward God and grasp the gift of hope. As we embrace the promise of spring, we are inspired to clear dead and decaying limbs and branches from the yard to make way for new plants and growth. Lent encourages us to do the same with our souls. What habits or behaviors do we need to remove from our lives completely and what things need nothing but a gentle tidying to make room for us to live in the world as God created for us to live in it?
To change directions and turn toward God is life giving. But, life can pull us in many directions making it difficult to know what direction is the right one to face. The beauty of giving something up for Lent offers us the opportunity to pause and open space in our lives for prayer and reflection, the contemplative practice that offers clarity regarding the direction one needs to turn to see the gift of new life.
Lent is coming. Will you take the challenge it offers to pause, reflect, turn and live?