I GAVE UP WINE FOR LENT!
So I switched to vodka.
This “What I gave up for Lent” didn’t pass my priestly smell test. It did remind me of the so-called smell of spring when I was a priest in central Vermont—that smell came from the winter’s accumulation of manure, which farmers spread on their fields before the spring ploughing.
The word LENT is derived from the Middle English word lencten (lengthen), associated with the “lengthening of days,” or spring.
Spring is the season when earth is plowed for planting. In the glacier-smoothed hillsides of New England, yearly plowing encounters a harvest of stones. These stones are surfaced by the action of the earth freezing and thawing (aka “frost heaves”).
In my four-year tenure at that small parish in Vermont, tilling my back garden yielded a pile of stones approaching knee-high. In Great Britain, where frost heaves also occur, the accumulation of such stones have been gathered into a network of “dry stone walls.” They span some 5,000 miles in the Yorkshire Dales alone, some dating back over 600 years.
In the practice of many liturgical Christian communities, Lent is the period of forty days (excluding Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter. In the language of the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, believers are encouraged to the “observance of a holy Lent, by self‐examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self‐denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
The “What I gave up for Lent” focuses only on the repentance and fasting. I would encourage Lent to be a time of personal and spiritual renewal.
Poet Robert Bly observed that children arrive in this world energetic, positive, and open. Over time we mature, age and amass a collection of shoulds, oughts, regrets, disappointed expectations, grudges, and more, which we drag around us like a bag of stones, not unlike the tow-sack of cotton following slaves in the Antebellum South.
Meditating on Ecclesiastes 3:5a, Lent might be for us “… a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together …”
Self-examination, coupled with repentance, is a potent source of change and renewal. For me, self-examination involves confronting myself with radical honesty and stripping away the ways I con myself. I daringly follow this by taking honest responsibility for my part in the messes in which I find myself embroiled. Repentance asks that I act to clean up my part of these messes. Stones are thrown away.
In this way, relationships can be healed. Hearts and spirits can be renewed and freed. New life and new opportunities arise from these redemptions. Stones are gathered together.
I’ve kept a stone that I purchased on Vancouver Island in which an artist bored a hole. During the weekly Sunday suppers I share with my sweet wife, who is in board and care, that stone holds a votive candle. It brings us both light and healing, and we wish that for you as well. Dear talented siblings in Christ,