The Choices We Make During Lent

It's hard to believe that just a few days ago, I was staring out into the frozen world around me, snow piled high, with more coming down.  I'd just received the notice that we were going to have to boil our water, only to moments later have the water shut off.  

We were trying to conserve energy and the house was dark except for the flickering of the fireplace, and I was bundled up because I turned our heat down to 67 degrees, which was cozy compared to the single-digit temperatures outside. 

Right this second, I am sitting outside on a screened-in porch in Florida.  I'm wearing shorts.  The sky is blue and the sun is shining warmly on the flowers that are blooming on a tree just outside.  I've taken like four showers in the last two days to make up for the days I went without one last week. 

The whole experience kind of shook me, though.  

I wrote a bit about it last week--reflections on loss, grief, and even death to a certain extent.  Winter can do that to you--bend your mind toward the impermanence of things, cover your outlook in a grey shroud of frigid air, and dead branches, shriveled plants, and dormant grass.  

And then the sun comes out, the ice melts, the air becomes warm and filled with the scent of Spring.  And you forget, at least a little, about what it felt like for things to be frozen and hopeless. 

I stepped outside today to walk our dog and turned my face to the sun and just stood there with my eyes closed.  I thought about the rhythm of things---about dying and rising, frozenness and verdancy.  It feels good to be warm again and to realize that the frozenness doesn't last forever.  

Sometimes I wish I could feel that way about all of the things I've lost.  I wish I could take all the griefs that I've endured during the frozen seasons, and simply turn my face to the sun and just let the warmth wash it all away.    

I know that it's a choice, but it's one that is much harder to make than it might seem---at least for ourselves.  We always see so clearly how everyone else needs to move on from loss, and discover joy once again, but when it comes to our own losses... we are often unable to release them.  

They are like old friends, who suck up all of the warmth and sunshine, but whom we can't relinquish for some mad reason.  And so we live in dread of what comes next.  We live in dread that the sun won't ever shine again, that we won't ever see the signs of Spring---even as we cling tightly to the very things that bring a perpetual Winter.  

I read this poem by Billy Collins not too long ago, and I jotted it down until I could find a way to share it:  

Last Meal
The waiter was dressed in black
And wore a hood.
And when we pleaded for a little more time, 
He raised his pencil over his order pad. 
And later when he came back 
To ask if we were finished, 
We shook our heads no, 
Our forks trembling over our empty plates. 

I know, it's not very subtle, but if you didn't catch it here's a spoiler alert:  Death is the waiter.  And there's no bargaining with Death for more time to order, or to keep on eating---especially when the meal is over. 

But there's something about this poem that charges me with an unsettling feeling.  And after a day or two of reflection, I've figured it out---at least for me.  You see, we have a choice to either live our lives trembling, trying to bargain for more, fearful that any moment the check is going to arrive... or we can enjoy the meal.  

Or to put it another way... we can choose to keep holding on to the frozen things that leave the ground around us iced up and lifeless... or we can turn our faces to the sun and embrace the resurrection of Spring.  

Our Lenten journey is filled with these kinds of choices, and rightly so.  It is a time of preparation if we choose rightly.  We can be prepared for what comes after the Cross, just as Jesus was.  We can be readied for Spring, and the sun, and new life granted by the One who defeated death for us, and all of Creation.  

May it be so for you today and every day.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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