Last year’s Ash Wednesday was near the end of February. The weekend after Lent began, we met our friends, Jane and her husband, in Times Square for dinner and a musical. Wow—were we innocent, or naïve? We had begun hearing about a virus, but it still seemed somewhere over there. No qualms about riding in an elevator to the hotel’s rooftop rotating bar, jammed in with dozens of unmasked people. Coughing in a crowd seemed like a joke, not a threat. Up close and personal with humanity — from buying tickets for “Jersey Boys” to packed restrooms, and breathing others’ air on the sidewalk, theater, train, airport people-mover, and airplane.
We didn’t know at the time, but COVID-19 had already begun its East Coast rampage, with ground zero located around New York City and Westchester County. As I look back, I think how lucky, and how stupid we were.
During this year of COVID, it’s been like the movie “Groundhog’s Day: Lent edition,” Lent without end. Many have been carrying heavy burdens and facing a dark night of the soul.
The virus has made us hermits, living in isolation.
Instead of sackcloth, we wear masks as a sign of penitence.
We anoint ourselves with hand sanitizer.
We’ve lived through the liturgical calendar’s “Ordinary Time,” but there’s been nothing ordinary about the time.
And now, Lent again. Instead of a reprieve and reset, this Lent feels like it’s just piling on. I remember childhood Lents as a time of giving up, usually something tangible like soda or candy. There’s been a lot of giving up already – for all of us, our freedom to move about freely; but for many it’s been a giving up of health, loved ones, or job.
Be that as it may, Lent starts this week with its 40 days of preparation for Easter. How can we mark this transitional time between winter and spring, as we anticipate rolling away the stone in early April?
Be intentional: Maybe start with something fun. Create a personal altar. Find items to display that symbolize your resolve to be transformed. Perhaps, you’ll adopt one of the tried-and-true Lenten disciplines: fast, pray, give.
Be hopeful: With vaccine distribution ramping up, by Easter we may be well on our way to tamping down COVID’s flames. There will always be things we can’t control, so look at what you can change.
Be thankful: Focus on things to be grateful for. Take Meister Eckhart’s suggestion to heart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
Reframe the traditional disciplines:
Fast: If you decide on abstaining, see giving up as making space for something new to be born, a release instead of penance.
Pray: Pause to reevaluate perspective and reorient on your true north. Based on ongoing discernment, reorder your priorities. Disengage briefly from the world’s noise by scheduling time for contemplation, whether that means going for a walk or savoring a cup of tea.
Give yourself a break: Figure out what feeds your soul. Treat yourself with compassion. Do unto yourself as you do unto others.
Whatever Lenten promise you decide on, be deliberate. Choose just one thing. Commit wholeheartedly. And if it makes your soul sing, print out a Lenten calendar and mark the sign of the cross on each block as you celebrate “mission accomplished.”
© Joan S Grey, 17 FEB 2021 ∞
IndexCardCure™: Lent without end…