In recent months, I’ve begun practicing the rhythm of life dictated by the liturgical calendar. It all started with Advent, really. I love Advent – love the hope, the rhythms, the way it prepares me for one of my favorite seasons of the year (though at this point, I’m not really sure that Advent isn’t my favorite season of the year).
I really love the rhythms of the ancient Church calendar, so I bought myself a planner to help me keep those rhythms. I bought the Daily Planner made by one of my favorite companies, Sacred Ordinary Days (they're so awesome, y'all). It walks me through the journey that is the Church Calendar, beginning with Advent, then Christmastide, Epiphany -- until we arrive at the current season. One I've always known about, I think, but never practiced until this year.
Forty days (not counting Sundays) of fasting, praying, and serving others.
Forty days of looking at the Cross. Staring at it in all its ugly-beautiful. Of drawing near to the person that is Jesus. As I type this, I realize that Lent is one of the only times in the calendar that we focus on coming close to the actual Person of Jesus. It's not about an event, like the Incarnation or the Resurrection. It's about the God-Man that is Jesus and coming face-to-face with him.
In multiple places, as I have prepared and begun to practice this season, I've read that Lent is about walking into the wilderness with Jesus.
I’ve written here before that at the beginning, after my graduation, my gap year felt like walking into a wilderness. Into a desert. Like placing my bare feet upon hard, cracked earth baked with heat. Feeling the scorch ride up through my nerve endings.
Instead of a desert, though, I found a valley kingdom. I found fertile green and deep blue sky and earthy rain smell and rich loam and silence.
The silence in which to grow.
It’s so quiet that you can hear your own footsteps in the clover.
This is the part of the adventure of which Elrond says, Sometimes you may find friends unlooked-for.
It has been a sanctuary I did not expect.
One of my favorite writers, Emily P. Freeman, has written about allowing things to grow in secret.
We bury a seed in the ground. In the dark. In the muffled silence of the rich, dark, health-smelling soil under our feet.
That’s what this year has been to me.
All in silence.
To be allowed to grow in a vacuum, in the silence between just you and God --
What a gift.
This wilderness has not been a wilderness. It has felt like fertile farmland, like the shelter of a rich valley. I walked barefoot through the valley all through Christmastide and Epiphany, rejoicing, scarcely daring to believe my good fortune.
My luck -- because it felt like luck, even though I feel like I should know better than to call it that.
So I have expected Lent to feel like pain.
Like the desert I haven’t gotten yet.
After all, I think, to quote The West Wing: There’s an argument to be made that I’m due.
It’s time. And I probably have it coming.
Last Sunday was the Second Sunday in Lent. And as I was journaling on Sunday morning, I wrote that yes, Lent feels like wilderness. But it feels more like a thick, overgrown forest than a desert.
It still feels like silence.
It feels a little bit like Mirkwood. Like the Old Forest. Like rich emerald green, musty and drenched in fog.
As I write this, a strange haze descends upon my workplace. It’s oddly fitting.
I remember that on Epiphany, on January 6, Lubbock was covered in snow.
It was quiet at work as I caught up on my Epiphany Examen. I felt sheltered and secluded and alone -- and like I was exactly where I should be.
I have been afraid of loneliness.
But to be in the silence with Jesus –-
What a gift.
This is not to say my life is a haven.
Last week something at work made me cry.
Gosh, I feel like I’ve been crying so much recently. That feels fitting, too.
Lent is overgrown and confused, a tangle of vines covering the tree trunks and the forest floor. The world is reaching for me, pulling me in, trying to choke out the voice of God, but there is still holy silence, and still I hear the beating of the Holy Spirit against my eardrums, like a heartbeat, but not my own -- and louder.
It’s got the ring of Other.
I don’t know what to do with Lent, what to make of it. I am stumbling over roots. My feet are catching on the vines, and I am sometimes sprawling on my face amid dead and decaying leaves.
They smell musty. Old. Like something between dust and dirt.
To dust you are and to dust you shall return.
I’m 22. Do I even have any kind of sense of my own mortality?
I feel rich, privileged, oh-so-lucky that Lent is not a desert.
I feel like I still have it coming to me.
I expected Lent to be miserable -- and it may be still.
But I think I’m learning more that misery is what we make it.
The joy of the Lord is our strength, and right now it’s the nearness of Jesus that is giving me life.
The way I feel like I can almost see His eyes gleaming back at me.
The way He takes my face between His great, callused, nail-pierced hands and smiles into my eyes with more tenderness than I can bear.
He tells me I no longer have it coming, whatever “it” is.
Because the Cross has covered all of whatever I had coming to me. It has taken it and killed it, and I no longer have anything coming but Jesus.
And I think that’s what Lent is about.
I think we expect it to be cruel, and instead we find that it is a haven unlooked for. That the silence heals us. That the forest -- it is tangled, and we do not know how to navigate it, and we may get a little lost -- but that forest is our friend.
And we can see the light through the leaves above our heads.