I live in Florida, but my inner calendar has been tuned by the north. In other words, no matter what I see outside my window, January means cold and snow and spring never shows up until after Easter. I suppose ten years living in Chicago did this, although I think it may go back even farther.
Growing up in Texas, I felt cheated by February heatwaves. I have always had an idealized version of the seasons; one more rooted in classic literature for children than in lived experience. Late winter meant sugar snow because I read Little House in the Big Woods no matter that late winter in Texas looks like fields full of bluebonnets.
In Chicago, Lent was appropriately dark, cold, and gray. A fitting backdrop for contemplating dust to dust. The right atmosphere for remembering the cross.
Last year, Lent in Florida surprised me with its very different rightness. The hot pink azaleas and vivid blue skies could not be reconciled with the grey smudges on our foreheads. They simply could not. But I decided that this was best. To practice Lent in such a place is to say, “I will not be distracted by youth or beauty. I will remember that death is ever present. I will not be seduced by sunshine and forget to pick up my cross.” How can we truly celebrate the resurrection power of God’s kingdom if we’ve forgotten how and why Jesus suffered?
Last year, I determined always to make an effort for Lent. It was necessary whether the fruit trees were blooming or not.
This year, I didn’t even make it to my church’s Ash Wednesday service. I was too tired. Too sick. Which says it all, I’m afraid, about the past few months of my life.
I thought about making an effort in some other way. What would I give up? Could I read through a special book of devotions? Make some goal for prayer or good works?
If only I weren’t so tired. If only my asthma would go away. If only I didn’t already feel crushed and weak. If only I didn’t already feel like dust, I might be able to make some effort to remember that I am dust.
Of course, If I had phrased it to myself just like that I might have realized sooner how foolish, how hopelessly circular my thinking had become.
Now I know that if Lent is about making some effort then the end result must always be gratitude that I need never make that effort.
With no effort on my part, I am loved.
With no effort on my part, I am redeemed.
Having made no choice, I might be led through a wintery, Lenten wilderness. Whether my calendar says it’s time for that or not.
Having done little but wait and rest, I will be led out again.
That in itself, I’ve learned, is a kind of discipline. God did tell his children, “It is a day of Sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves” (Leviticus 23:32). Would he have put it like that if rest came easily and naturally?
What, then, is my Lenten discipline for 2012? Merely to rest in the shadow of the cross. And wait.