Lent began this week. If you're surrounded by people in any denomination of the Christian faith, that probably comes as no surprise to you.
As a believer myself, it wasn't out of the ordinary that this week my social feeds were filled with people discussing Lent — the things they're giving up, the things they're taking up, the other ways they're using this season to prepare for Resurrection, and even discussions about why you should give up Lent for Lent.
This year I've been reading a lot of Madeleine L'Engle. She's been one of my favorite authors for years for the simple reason that she penned my favorite book of all time. It wasn't until 2015 that I picked up any of her writings outside the Time Quintet, but so far in 2017, she's penned four of the seven books I've completed or have in progress.
At the moment, I'm working my way through The Irrational Season, the third book in the Crosswicks Journals, which is a collection of four memoirs L'Engle wrote. In this third volume, L'Engle works through the liturgical calendar, from Advent to Advent, and uses the various seasons to discuss not only the rhythms in the life of the Church but the rhythms in her own life and the life of the believer.
Having grown up in a non-denominational home, the liturgical calendar is not one I'm intimately familiar with beyond the season of Advent, but the older I get, the more I find myself drawn to follow it more closely. There's inherent rhythm built into it — seasons of fasting, seasons of reflection, and seasons of celebration — that fit with the rhythms and seasons of life.
On Wednesday, it was nearly 80 degrees here in Virginia. Today our high barely reaches 40, but peak bloom for the famous Washington D.C. cherry blossoms is still predicted for March 14-17 — one of the earliest ever recorded. Though I'm sure there are greater implications for the unseasonable warmth that we won't discuss now, it seems to me that even nature is yearning for change and the promises that always seem to arrive with spring.
As a season, Lent is something I've participated in sporadically over the years. In my younger days I arbitrarily gave up things like sugar or chocolate without any true understanding of the purpose behind it. Regardless of the actual history behind the season, I have now come to view Lent in regard to Easter very much like I view Advent in regard to Christmas. It is a time to quiet my heart and reflect on the sacrifice Christ made on the Cross, intentionally preparing myself for the celebration of His resurrection — something that is easy to miss or forget in the busyness of modern life.
The official start to spring is still a few weeks away and even then, it's unlikely that Virginia will be able to stick with one general temperature range for some time after that. I spent last week in Florida, where it was sunny and warm and I wore flip flops and tees almost every day. That kind of weather is normal for the south, but it did nothing to curb my yearning for the light and warmth and growth and newness of spring.
I've never particularly been a fan of cold weather or much of anything about winter, so every year I eagerly anticipate the arrival of spring. But this year, much like Advent, the season of Lent is reminding me that the Lord created the rhythms of nature the way He did for a purpose, and by rushing too soon from one season to the next, we miss what is often essential preparation.
As human beings, we're fickle creatures, apt to become so enamored by the possibility of what will or could be that we lose sight of what is. But in the same way that ground cannot produce a bountiful crop without time to lay fallow, the human heart cannot produce bountiful fruit without seasons of quiet and stillness to let the Lord work.
Beyond my desire for warmth and sunlight again, the mid-to-late months of 2017 are shaping up to be filled with unexpected but exciting opportunities and my weary heart is all too ready for the newness and possibilities. I have to intentionally remind myself that a season of bountiful harvest cannot come unless a season of preparation precedes it. I have to stop my mind and my heart from leaping forward from what is to what could be and remind myself that the Lord is working now, in this seemingly dark, cold, and fallow time as much, if not more, than He will be in the seasons to come.
Amidst the many discussions spread throughout my feed this week surrounding the season of Lent, words from Lore Ferguson Wilbert, one of my favorite bloggers, caught my eye:
"I wonder how different I and the people around me would be if I didn't fast from talking, writing, speaking, social media, or whatever during Lent, but I spent 40 days taking every opportunity to encourage, spur on to love and good deeds, spoke life-giving words to specific individuals, and prayed *with* all the people in my life?"
I have long held the belief that words are an incredibly powerful thing. In and of themselves they do not have the ability to change a heart — that is something only the Lord can do — but I believe there is a reason God spoke the world into existence rather than physically labored to make it so.
Perhaps one of the best ways I have found to keep myself grounded, to remain present in my current season even when my heart desperately wishes to fly into the future, is by more intentionally loving the people around me. By choosing to see them and hear them and pray for them and be with them right where they're at and use my words to bring about the new season — to breathe life into dead spaces, to bring hope into hearts that lost it long ago, to spur on to love and good deeds, to share encouragement and belief, to speak truth against the lies that can grow in a fallow season.
I'm not giving up anything for Lent this year. I haven't in a long time and I don't know that I ever will again. Instead, I will choose to use this season to prepare my heart for the beauty of Easter Sunday and use my words to hopefully help others do the same. With each day that passes, Easter comes closer and the reminder of hope draws nearer. As our Lord did, let us use our words, this season and every day, to give life.
Speaking of powerful words, this is just a small collection of a few pieces I've read and loved lately that I feel should be shared:
For All the Namers — This post by Carolyn Givens for The Rabbit Room stopped me in my tracks. It is beautiful and lovely and something I think every person should read because if you know an artist or you are an artist, the truth in it affects you.
Why the British Tell Better Children's Stories — This post from The Atlantic is such an interesting exploration in the difference between the British and American cultures and how they affect our approach to stories and, as a result, determine the kinds of stories we produce.
On Passion — I discovered Erin Loechner at the beginning of this year and she's quickly become one of my favorite people to read. There is a simplicity and beauty to her words, yet they are drenched with such truth. This essay about passion as an emotion and its connection to a passionate life is no exception.
Smelling Flowers in the Dark — Anne Shirley, the beloved heroine immortalized by L.M. Montgomery, is my favorite character in all of literature. I have yet to explore Lucy Maud's other heroines, but this exquisite piece by Jennifer Trafton beautifully captures why I have always loved Anne so much and will continue to turn to her the pages of her stories for the rest of my life.