Lent started without me. I was out of town for a workshop, then got quite sick, and throughout this time was very involved in a rather intense effort to deal with a crisis situation in the life of someone very dear to me.
And although I was not raised in a church culture that practiced Lent, and in fact probably did not know the meaning of that word popping up every spring on my Hallmark pocket calendar until sometime in college, I have come to really appreciate the wisdom of this period of time leading up to Holy Week and Easter, and I look forward to it each year.
But this year I just wasn't able to enter into it fully. Unable to attend an Ash Wednesday service, I hadn't even had the time to think about how I would practice Lent this year, what form and structure my prayer, fasting, and giving might take.
Earlier in the month, however, I did go to St. Columba for a much-needed retreat of a day and parts of two days. And while there I was taken by the stripes of light one morning in the room when I woke up and opened the blinds to let in the sun. And then started noticing stripes everywhere.
So I got out the new camera my dear one had given me for Christmas, and I took pictures.
The wool blanket that was my Grandmother's. A lovely Lenten purple!
Stripes upon stripes.
The stripes of the rocking chair out on the porch (and the wonderful reflection of daffodils superimposed on it! And pens in the glass nearby.)
Stripes on the lampshade and all around.
Stripes on the side of the kitchen cabinet, stripes in the grain of the wood.
Stripes of light on the stripes of the dish drainer.
Light stripes kissing my little orange friends.
Stripes of light on the countertop and light working wonders through the curves of the glass.
And of course the stripes of the blinds themselves, the handmaidens of the morning sun, co-creating this visual display.
Stripes. Lent. "With his stripes we are healed." Everything connects to everything else eventually.
Today I was reading from the book Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, reading back over pages I had missed because of everything else going on. Edna Hong writes about the need for Lent. "Our self-indulgent and self-flattering age looks upon the self-maltreating and self-hating practices of the monastic and desert ascetics as pathetic and futile." We think those practices were silly, laughable, and those who engaged in them woefully misguided, perhaps even sick. And of course they were extreme and perhaps not healthy.
But as Hong points out, our decision not to engage in such practices does not generally come from a place of already having arrived at such humility that we do not need such reminders. "It is rather our comfort-seeking spirits" that scorn those practices.
"But the spirit of truth does not seek comfort. The purpose of Lent is not to escape the conscience, but to create a healthy hatred for evil, a heartfelt contrition for sin, and a passionately felt need for grace.....There is no motivation for works of love without a sense of gratitude, no sense of gratitude without forgiveness, no forgiveness without contrition, no contrition without a sense of guilt, no sense of guilt without a sense of sin."
"In other words, a guilty suffering spirit is more open to grace than an apathetic or smug soul. Therefore, an age without a sense of sin, in which people are not even sorry for not being sorry for their sins, is in rather a serious predicament. Likewise an age with a Christianity so eager to forgive that it denies the need for forgiveness. For such an age, therefore, Lent can scarcely be too long!"
His stripes heal us. We don't need to stripe ourselves with self-flagellation like some of those ascetics.We could never heal ourselves, anyway. And yet most of us find we do need practices that challenge our apathetic and smug souls. Many who are not aware of that need, I have observed, engage in non-literal forms of self-flagellation. They beat themselves up for not being perfect, for mistakes they've made even years earlier sometimes. They whip themselves in order to perform better and castigate themselves when they fail. It's a routine I know well from earlier times in my life.
How much better to accept that we are imperfect, accept forgiveness, forgive ourselves, and live in love and gratitude. If Lent can help that happen, bring on the purple. And thank God for the stripes that heal. And for the light that brings life.
(I had not heard of Edna Hong before reading this today. But she lived an amazing life! Married a day after college graduation, hitchhiked to New York, sailed to Denmark, translated Kierkegaard, raised eight children, took in war refugees, wrote children's literature, lived over ninety years....Wow.)