Today Lent is like a jagged tear in a big cloth. It’s the kind of cloth that is gauzy and so hard stitch. Today, Lent is like a cloth that seems to tear all year long, little rips as the days pass and then we’re standing over the gaping yaw of Lent with this torn cloth – something to fix. Again.
I think Lent is a mutable thing, a movable wilderness, a shape-shifting magical sort of thing. Some years it means nothing, some years it is the longest forty days you’ll ever live. I remember my last Lent, where I was in such upheaval and turmoil, where every single thing I’d ever thought needed to be thought about again. I wrote and I wrote, the only way I could process what was happening to me, the only way I could make audible the sounds of a heart as it cracks open; the only way I could make you understand.
I’ve stood on the edge this year, lots of times, and in a rather dizzying way had it occur to me that it was already Ash Wednesday, already the second Sunday; almost Palm Sunday and Holy Week will begin and the organ will play a fanfare and there will be candle wax everywhere from the candles we light with our new fire. For some reason I always manage to step back just in time.
I comfort myself and say (yes, to myself) that maybe not every time this forty days comes around can I be fully engaged. Not every time can I feel so sorry, not every time can I contemplate. There is already so much to contemplate, so much learning taking place, so many facts and little nuggets I can certainly lob at people, only I can’t back them up with sound scripture, not yet.
And the fact that I just said I can’t back up what I’m saying with scripture proves to you, and to me, just how far I have to go. I didn’t even think about it, didn’t take the hermeneutical circle into account, what was happening before the text was written, what was happening when the text was written, what I bring to the text. When you look at this whole thing, the bible and the stories we tell that aren’t really that true or where we leave things out…. I don’t know, I need for things to be clear. I need to make a decision and then tell everyone what the right way is to see something, what the right thing is to do.
I’m working on this, because it’s a leftover too, this idea that theology can be accurate and solid and RIGHT and so everyone else must be wrong. I’ve only changed camps is all, how disheartening.
My movable wilderness has moved from the desert, the tent that billowed in the hot sun for forty days last year. In the the I tent I was robed in my patchwork cloak and I sat at a pile of crates and tapped away at my typewriter. I told you about being holy and how we are called to be. I told you about how I couldn’t pray, how I could sing instead and inside my head played this film reel of all the people I was thinking of, how I trusted that God would know what was happening with me, where my pain was, what my wish was; what I was asking for.
I ventured out of that tent sometimes, walked miles and miles to the river and carried water back to my tent. Those were the Sundays where we maybe sang a hymn I knew, where my wilting houseplant fronds perked up at the chance to sing a song I didn’t have to sight read, where I could sing just for the joy of it without the work or the struggling to keep up or to sing the right notes.
Sometimes you ventured in, and I would take off my cloak and lay it across the bed, we would recline on the rugs and pillows and the tent would slowly turn red as you filled me with your knowledge and your love.
My movable wilderness has moved closer to the plains that skirt the city of Jerusalem, closer to the river that separates the woods and the meadow from the campground that rings the the throne room of God.
I think that to say I am becoming more holy is blasphemous, and yet am not sure how else to explain it. Aren’t we called to be holy, to be more holy every day, to be shining and clear vessels of our each and individual and own call to reconcile?
So I don’t know how else to explain my shift in venue.
Maybe I hadn’t realized all along that this journey we’re on is toward that campground, toward that city on a hill, toward the promised land. Maybe I hadn’t realized that we don’t start that journey when we die, that we are called always deeper into the terrible love of God, even in death – which is no more, because hell was overthrown by what it could not see, because hell grasped a corpse and MET GOD.
The meadow where I’m at this Lent, in this movable wilderness, is miles and miles from that fair city; I tell myself I can see the lights sparkling in the distance, like people like to boast that they can see across Lake Michigan. It’s wishful thinking, wishing I were more powerful than I am, closer to the holy of holies, closer to knowing everything; closer to being sure.
Where I am now is a cottage on the shores of the river, and when it rains the gulls go silent and the air fills with ozone and fish. I’ve upgraded from a typewriter to an ancient desk top computer, I’m still painting myself out of corners, fighting my way out of the paper bag I placed on my own head.
But there are nice rag rugs on the floors, and when I turn on the tap water comes out.
I long for the Great Vigil of Easter, though I have a sneaking suspicion that my location will not change. I will spend another year in the cottage by the river, and somehow, that is ok with me.
I long for new fire. I long for new inspiration, I long to bear the holy smoke that carries the crying want of humanity, the teary, bloody mess of death and resurrection, and all of our disbelief and imperfection up to God.
It mingles with the smoke from his campfire. He sits in a chair and watches the flames dance, listens to the sound of the choir rehearsing across the lake, sees the way the stained glass in the church reaches out and lays prostate on the ground. He puffs on the fire now again and the flames change to blue and red and pink and green.
And I think he loves us anyway, in the only way the he knows how.
I love you still, in the small and inconsistent ways that I can love you. And I hope that it is enough.
Respice, quaesumus, Domine
Et animam refove, quam creasti
Ut castigationibus emendata
Se tua sentiat medicina salvatam
Per Christum, Dominuum
Qui vivit et regnat
Per omnia saecula saeculorum