Temperatures soared into the 50s at the monastery, and the welcome sound of trickling ice melt filled the air. Hooray! After a long cold winter in Wisconsin, spring thaw has begun. I’ve been delighted by the sight of patches of green grass poking out from beneath the ice caps on the trails. I’d nearly forgotten there was anything alive under that thick white blanket of snow.
The start of spring often parallels the beginning of Lent in North America, but until recently I hadn’t considered how they might complement one another. Ask anyone what they associate with Lent, and you’ll likely hear a dour litany: fasting, asceticism, sacrifice, penance. “The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent,” says Benedict, seemingly reinforcing an image of harsh self-denial. Yet the Rule emphasizes that the disciplines we add during Lent are to be undertaken “so that each of us can have something above the assigned measure to offer God with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” There’s joy in Lent? Is Benedict serious?
It isn’t often that I am urged to celebrate Lent with the same joy and enthusiasm that I might greet the coming of spring– but Benedict reminds me that the two are not so far apart. Both are meant to point us to new life, growth, renewal, and, ultimately, joy.
This year, as the season of Lent began, I welcomed a dear friend from NYC visiting for a week-long retreat. Her first experience of the monastery was at our Ash Wednesday service. The great gift of having her here was being able to see the whole service through her eyes. After six months as a Benedictine Sojourner, I had become familiar with most aspects of our worship. But her perspective was fresh, and full of wondering surprise. She was struck by its simplicity and ecumenical openness, the periods of silence that invited inward reflection and that every aspect of the service— from music to homily to the imposition of ashes—was led by women. Sitting beside her, I was moved myself by what I saw anew through her. As I received my ashes, the words spoken over me were: Repent and believe the good news. The words penetrated my heart. It’s easy to forget, but the season of Lent is not about making resolutions to be a better Christian: it’s about turning around, right where I am, and receiving the grace of God for me.
A potluck dinner after the simple service reminded me that Lent is also a time to come into community and nurture our souls and bodies. It is not a time to punish ourselves, or wallow in our sinfulness but instead, as Benedict repeats, to “look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.” As I listened to my friend speak about the overwhelming sense of gratitude that she was getting in touch with while on retreat, thankfulness filled my heart as well.
Like the coming of Spring, Lent restores my vision for the landscape around me. The ground that was covered by snow and ice slowly reveals itself as the days lengthen and warm. As the seasons change, my thoughts gladly turn toward the new life that is to come. This shift in my perspective points me toward the deep and lasting blessing of the Easter resurrection, so that my Lenten discipline becomes a means of rejoicing in and rekindling my faith. Like the call of birds heralding spring, the joy of Lent is found in this renewing of my vision, remembering blessings, and discovering the courage daily to begin again.
Follow this link to read Rosy’s earlier posts: Living in Community – A Benedictine Sojourner’s Journey