And so it’s Lent…again!
Every year this season of the church launches us into spring – a time of freshness, newness, the budding forth and blossoming of trees, flowers, and grasses, etc. The dullness of winter vanishes and glorious spring erupts! And yet, are we ever startled by this connection, which for those neither Catholic, nor Christian, and perhaps not even believers, would seem to be an incongruous connection, especially in light of the cultural understanding of Lent! Lent – a time of penitence, of depriving ourselves, expressing sorrow for our sinfulness, attempting to get back into “God’s good graces.” How does this lead to a spring, where it all just seems a bad dream, a distant memory, or a weird expression of “time served.”
We need, perhaps, to sharpen our pencils and get to know Lent better than we think we do. And maybe in the process discover something about this season that makes it necessary for us, in ways we may never have imagined. This is the understanding we provide our students at The Franciscan School.
Let’s begin with the word, Lent, shall we? Surprise! It has nothing to do with any of those characteristics, ideas, images with which it has come to be associated over time. The word is Anglo-Saxon and simply means “a lengthening.” “Of what?” you may astutely ask. Well, daylight, really. Days are getting longer – remember the winter solstice? In ancient times it was a moment of HOPE that the death of winter would not last forever, and creation responds with a reversal of what was thought inevitable. Death gives way to life, not the other way around. And for Christians, since all creation is God’s, it is God who is inspiring and conducting the reversal of what we too often wrongly believe is inevitable.
Lent, then, is first and foremost a season of HOPE. It is a season where we are called to recognize the many reversals towards good in our lives, initiated by God, that we might neglect when our focus too narrowly rests upon ourselves and our smallness of heart. We recognize how good, and wonderful, and glorious God is, through recognizing how good, and wonderful, and glorious is this good earth and those good things in it that surround us.
To do so requires the reclaiming, or better, the remembering of what is the attitude of a believer in the world. Christianity is not a political or social agenda. It is not an organization or an institution; it is not even a good idea. Christianity is a way of life; it is a revelation, it is the incarnation, and it is meant to be lived with an attitude that explodes with HOPE. It is the most distinguishing characteristic of being a believer, which seldom is recognized and embraced for the power it contains.
And how do we cultivate this attitude at The Franciscan School? Well, some time back, we envisioned Ash Wednesday differently. Ashes are dirt, right? Blest, yes, but still dirt. And placed upon our foreheads, it is dirt everyone can see. Was this supposed to make us self-conscious of our “dirty-ness,” or worse feel guilty that we so often don’t measure up? Is this really fruitful in the end for a faith that is life-giving? Jesus never says that we should go about doing this, and the gospel of Matthew, which lays the groundwork for Lent, never speaks of it. So maybe these ashes, this dirt, means something more for us; and we began to look at what dirt (or better, as our faculty reminded us, SOIL) is supposed to do – and that makes things grow, help to give life to things, bring out the more of what something is meant to be. Becoming “good dirt” became a hallmark for Lent at The Franciscan School, and it still continues to this day. We are encouraged and emboldened to live in this season, and every season, as that “good dirt” that gives HOPE to our world.
This is a Lent worth exploring, and Lent that reminds us what an education guided by faith can be inspired within us.