So we're about 6 days into the season of Lent. How are you? Wishing you hadn't given up coffee or chocolate? One of my dearest priest friends, who is now in his 80s, always used to say that he gave up riding in submarines for Lent. That would be funnier if you knew this man. Picture Yoda...small, wrinkly, and freakishly wise. One of those people that you are sure came out of the womb in a shirt and tie with a fancy cane, a person who was never a child or teenager. He told me that submarine joke every Lent for years, and I laughed every time.
Since the 80s when I became an Episcopalian and started being aware of Lent I have run the gamut in Lenten disciplines. I have given up Diet Coke. Yes, that was a bad idea. Whoever I was dating at the time probably still has claw marks or bruises or something on him! There's sacrifice and then there's just crazy! I've had some Lents were I fasted on Fridays. Some Lenten season where I read morning prayer or compline every day/night. By the way I highly recommend such a practice! Those services in our Book of Common prayer are lovely and brief and easily done in the privacy of your own home/bed...while nursing a Diet Coke. I have tried many times to write in my journal every day during Lent...then it was once a week during Lent..then..well...you know how that one ends. It is hard for me to keep up a practice or let go of a habit all 40 days of Lent. (46 if you count the Sundays but we don't really because each Sunday is a "little Easter" so YES you can have your chocolate or your Diet Coke on Sundays!)
But this year I'm really trying to be consistent. So for my Lenten practice I have put my engagement ring on my right hand, which yes, compared to fasting for 40 days and nights in the wilderness looks downright lame. But it is a little irritating to have it there. I've had this ring now since July 24 2000, and it's always been on my left hand. So it feels odd to feel it and see it on my right hand, but there it is. A visual and tactile reminder of the season of Lent...an odd and sometimes irritating season.
Besides just that feeling that it doesn't belong there, it also causes me to find other ways to remember things. When I am without a pen and paper, and I think of something like: buy more Diet Coke at the grocery store, or return that phone call, pick up the dry cleaning, whatever, I typically move my engagement ring to my right hand. Then later, when I think, what is that ring doing there? I will (almost always) remember, o yes, I need to do that errand or call that person. Then when the thing is done, I can move it back to my left hand. And yes that means I'm usually only good for remembering 1 thing since I do not wear lots and lots of rings! But remembering 1 thing is a big achievement these days!
If I remember my seminary Hebrew correctly (and by that I mean I never took Hebrew in seminary but I had friends who did who told me stuff and I have 3 really really good friends who are all Rabbis and they tell me stuff) then there is the element of an action attached to the concept of remembering that is part of the Hebrew language. So often in Scripture you'll read about someone wanting to remember a place or remember God's presence so that person will build an altar or make something or cut something (yes I mean circumcision, but let's not get derailed with that.)
I love the idea of doing something or touching something or making something and connecting that to remembering. It's the old tie a string around your finger thing, of course. But the whole season of Lent can be that for us, can be a whole season of remembering. And that's the best that the season has to offer in my opinion. It's bigger and better than just deprivation...although most of us in America could use a little forced deprivation (excluding Diet Cokes of course.)
If you spend Lent thinking only of chocolate or cigarettes or whatever it is you gave up and not spending any time thinking about God and drawing nearer to the Fount of All Wisdom, the Source of all Life, then Lent has just been about deprivation and not about transformation.
The purpose of sacrifice is not just the sacrifice, not just the pride that comes with, look at me I gave up this thing for 40 (46) days...I rock! But rather every time you reach for your ring on your left hand or every time you reach for that candy that you gave up or every time you reach for the prayer book to read morning prayer the sacrifice of time or something pleasant for your palate are reminders of Lent and reminders of God's outrageous love. Rather than doing some grand gesture to try and "pay back" God, it's really about offering in some tangible way a part of your very self to God who loves you beyond measure. So if that part of you is your love of chocolate or the time you now invest in some intentional way because it's Lent then that's the goal of the season, offering that part of you up to God in gratitude.
I have a feeling my Yoda friend did really have some personal practice for Lent that was perhaps just too tender to talk about, but if not, if really the joke about the submarines was the extent of his Lenten piety then so be it. He has sacrificed plenty by pulling countless seminary students (including this one) through the hard slog of theology classes often while experiencing excruciating back and hip pain.
May this season be a continual reminder of God's endless love of you. Peace, Rhoda