Friday, March 7th, 2014 – The First Friday in Lent
A Thought and a Poem
Have you been asked what you are giving up for Lent? Have you asked anyone? It’s a fairly common conversation this time of year. It can be asked almost anywhere without being considered inelegant. People get asked at the train station, at work, at kid’s activities. Rarely, though, do we ask the natural follow up question, the one Geraldo or Matt Lauer or Barbara Walters would ask: How do you hope to be different because of this sacrifice, this new practice?
Being asked that question checking out at Costco would certainly temper the advantages of buying in bulk.
The question, however uncomfortable we might feel asking or answering it, is a good one. What are we really trying to achieve during the season of Lent? I had a parishioner in a former church whose wife loved to tell this Lenten story on him. He had a ‘boys’ weekend scheduled with his oldest chums. It was a five day, annual affair and because of the movable nature of Lent, it was coming right at the beginning of the season. And…he had given up alcohol. When his wife asked him how this was going to work on a long weekend of this kind, he replied that he had ‘banked’ his five Sundays so he was in good shape.
After being impressed that he knew that Sundays aren’t counted in the forty days, I was left wondering what his deeper thoughts about this were. Did he think that God was counting? That God was monitoring his spiritual gymnastics? That God has strong opinions about alcohol or keeping promises or being ‘one of the guys’ when the situation encourages it?
You have perhaps figured out that I don’t find death morbid or a forbidden subject. For me, it merely frames the question, “What is life supposed to be about for a Christian?” However each of us answers, I expect that our answers would include the idea of participating in life. Fully. With passion. With joy and with each other. So that we could feel at life’s end that we had returned the gift God has given us with some reciprocal sense of grace.
The poet Mary Oliver covers this in an excerpt from her poem:
“When Death Comes”
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems (Beacon Press).
– Christopher Powell