Quickly closing in on the age when the Catholic Church excuses me from mandatory fast and abstinence during Lent, I should have something to say after more than six decades of experience. If pressed, it comes down to this: it’s not ultimately about denial and deprivation!
Jeb the Dog often directs me to the edge of Minnehaha Creek where he takes me each day for a walk. Yeterday Jeb led me to a clump of green spikes audaciously staking their claim amid the crunchy brown stubble of last year’s summer spectacle. A rippling sheet of water attests to the creek’s insistence on breaking winter’s paralyzing hold. Years of accompanying Jeb instill confidence that watery rapids will soon applaud the canary yellow blossoms atop blades of lavish green.
Chickadees are returning to the still somnolent serviceberries. Yesterday, while positioning bed pillows on the sunny deck for a seasonal airing, two Juncos flashed the white underlying of their slate-colored tails as they vacated the Korean lilac. A matched pair of cardinals more boldly held their positions, staking out their claim with a nearly forgotten song.
In his poem, March, Mark Doty unwittingly expresses the paradox of our Lenten fast and abstinence:
I thought the choice was to love austerity
or not to love at all,
but when I went out to look at the elemental
I found nothing sparse, only this density
and saturation: dusky sedge
at the pond’s rim, thicket and tumble
of violet contradiction, plum stems–
a whole vocabulary of tone and hue, demanding,
a history steeped in the long practice
of luminosity. How difficult
just to say what’s here, in March severity.
Yes, try! Ultimately, Lent is not about denial and deprivation! No, it is about awakening to all that is quickening in us and in this luminous creation. From her home on the North Dakota prairie Kathleen Norris hints at the salutary motivation for fast and abstinence:
What is enough? As always, it seems that the more I can distinguish between my true needs and my wants, the more I am shocked to realize how little is enough. The trees that fan me are the fruit of others’ labor, planted by an earlier generation of Plains dwellers who longed for trees to shelter them. The land resisted, but let them have these few. I am startled by something flashing through the trees. It is the Pleiades, all seven of them plainly visible to the naked eye. This is another’s work, and a mystery. And it is enough.
Our world is awakening, being renewed, restored, refreshed, redeemed. Six decades bring more than well-worn duty and rote routine.
Age and experience yields freedom from frozen obligations, yet instills the assurance that we are securely held by Someone more gracious than ourselves. We settle into an audacious confidence that as spent patterns recede, the ultimate vitality of life will not be denied. We conclude that even the smallest of portions is more than enough!
In addition to Mark Doty’s poem, March, which is from his collection Atlantis published by HarperPerennial, 1995; this reflection was also inspired by my friend Susan Stabile on her blog, Creo in Dios. Susan quoted Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk in beautifully distinguishing the difference between our wants and needs. I recommend her post available [here].