‘Tis the season, the season I look forward to every year: Lent.
It is a time of Bright Sadness.
It is a time of reflection.
It is a time of repentance.
It is a time of fragile hope.
I think I look forward to Lent so much because as a reflective, introspective introvert, the Lenten season promises time to reflect, time to meditate, time to contemplate, time to pray, time to be. I always have romantic ideas about Lent, idealized visions of piles of books, of quiet moments, of prayer. I think it is peace that my soul most longs for during Lent.
This year, I am no less idealistic. I have books on hand, lots of them. Here is a sampling:
My yearlong standby: The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime
A book of essays: Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
I have two books to use with my family this year: Bring Lent to Life: Activities & Reflections for Your Family and Bringing Lent Home with Mother Teresa: Prayers, Reflections, and Activities for Families.
I am also following this Creative Arts Lenten retreat.
On Ash Wednesday evening, before we went to church, I scarfed down my food so that I could read some child-friendly Lenten reflections at the table.
I tried to have a conversation about fasting. I tried to explain fasting, and then I asked my five-year-old son, Jack, what he might want to fast from. He thought a moment and replied, “Bad guys.”
OK, so, he doesn’t really get it.
Then I suggested maybe he fast from saying hurtful things to his sister, and he completely missed my point and responded in the affirmative that yes, his sister should fast from saying hurtful things to him.
In the middle of my discussion, I suddenly realized that Jack hadn’t had a bath in an embarrassing number of days and that I should throw him in the tub before leaving for church.
So much for reflection, for meditating, for contemplating, for praying, for being.
I rushed him in the tub, rushed him out, and we rushed out the door.
And then the rest of the week slipped by, or rather, scurried by, with no time for any of my other planned family Lenten activities.
So I mess up at Lent. I do.
However, I have managed to keep my Lenten fast so far this year, which is a small miracle.
Our pastor, Eric, suggested that we not tell anyone what our fast is this year, and while I respect that idea, and while keeping that idea in my head helps keep me in check (sometimes) when I just sort of want to whine to anyone within whining distance, I am going to share my fast with you.
I am fasting from caffeine.
I am certifiably insane.
Or I will be at the end of Lent.
As I write this post, however, it is Sunday, the feast day, and so today I can talk about my Lenten practice quite contentedly, because all day I have been sipping coffee out of one side of my mouth and sucking down Diet Coke with the other.
This whole fasting from coffee and Diet Coke thing–not so much.
I have found that, without caffeine, I am stripped down to the bare bones of who I am.
It scares me a little.
Without caffeine, I am a little stupid.
Without caffeine, I think I might be a really boring person.
Without caffeine, I drove down Southwest Boulevard on the way to take my daughter to see Peter and the Wolf at the symphony with only one eye open and driving 5 miles below the speed limit.
Without caffeine, I made my daughter a sandwich on non-gluten-free bread.
Without caffeine, I have no memory of both small and large gaps of time.
Without caffeine, I think 8:30 is a perfectly reasonable bedtime.
I’m sort of a mess.
But I’m also praying more. And sometimes I think I can hear God whisper since my head isn’t buzzing with caffeinated chemicals. And when I am not half-asleep I think I am listening more. And sometimes I am less anxious (except not during my son’s basketball games. I have decided that next year I need a prescription for anti-anxiety medication).
I bet at some point I will mess up. I will suck down Diet Coke when we go out for pizza on a Friday night. Or I will decide at 5:00 one morning that life isn’t worth living if my coffee is decaffeinated. I might mess up. But if I do, as my grandpa reminded me the other day as he stood in his kitchen sipping his caffeinated coffee in a most un-Christian-like way, God will love me anyway.
And for that I am grateful.
I am going to close today with a reminder from my blog two years ago, a reminder that Lent is lived within Life, and that neither my Lent nor my Life has to be perfect.
And now here I am, yet again, beginning Lent with the harsh reminder that Lent is lived within the mess and muck and chaos. How I long to carry out the beauty of Lent poetically. That’s what my soul longs for. But then…. But then…. But then I am worshipping the poetry of Lent rather than the God of Lent. And if I can journey through this Bright Sadness with a little grace, if I can find a little more light in the shadows of my soul’s chiaroscuro, and if I can carve out for myself a bit more peace, I do believe that I will find some poetry in this beautiful mess, this chiaroscuro of my soul, this bright sadness. And then I will be ready, I hope–oh, how I hope–to embrace the joy and the awakening and the new life of Easter.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
By Jill Clingan