"It's a perfect day for the beginning of Lent," I thought to myself as I was getting dressed this morning. It was a grey overcast day, the wind was blowing, and there was a strange humidity in the air. Perfect for the penitent, soulful reflection that we launch into during Lent. Muggy, grey, rainey. Just what Lent is all about. Right?
As I was outside following Morning Prayer, I noticed that the wind was picking up. It reminded me of how "tossed about" I feel sometimes in a season of reflection like Lent. Brought face to face with my shortcomings. Brought into the only light I ever thought there was to Lent - the light of reality at how unholy I am sometimes. How far from the mark I often fall. And there was stirring up a chill in the air - not quite here yet, but on its way. (You know how you can feel that in the air?)
I returned to my room, and spent some more time in prayer and reflection. Yes - indeed - this is a perfect day to be reminded that we are of dust, and to dust we will return as the ashes are placed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross.
Mid morning I decided to go to a communal Stations of the Cross. Standing in the narthex of our seminary chapel with others participating in this devotion, I was touched by how small by comparison the physical inconveniences I was enduring were compared to the physical catastrophe Christ endured. My knees creaked and popped every time we genuflected - and they hurt, just plain hurt. But how could I complain, even to myself. But even as the narthex seemed to transform into a sauna, and the sweat trickled down my back, I didn't find myself emotionally "flogging" me for my limitations, physical and spiritual. Instead, I found some strange blam for my shortcomings in this devotion on the Passion.
Again outside, the clouds had cleared away almost completely. And a brisk, almost spring air, blew through the courtyard. "Yes, this IS a perfect day for Lent to begin," I thought as I reflected on BOTH the greyness of the earlier part of the morning, and yet at the same time this refreshing breeze that was now blowing. Lent must be a mixture of these two somehow - not because that's what I was experiencing in the weather, but more because that's what I was experiencing within. I could have not gone to the Stations meditation, it wasn't required. But I gained a new sense of comfort from it - comfort even of my shortcomings. And that comfort was a refreshing breeze to me.
At mass, our rector reminded us the the ancient mark on our foreheads this Ash Wednesday was not just a reminder that we are among the clan of the sinner penitents, but also a reminder of Who we are claimed for, of the hope we have in Him. Into lunch where we ate a simple meal and instead of our typical conversation listened to a reading from the Holy Father on the "hope we have in Christ", this interesting mix of grey and sunny continued in all that I was doing and experiencing. It had to fit together somehow more than I was able to grasp.
And then at midday prayer, the Archabbot provides the answer - something I'd never really "got" as deeply before: We celebrate Lent because of Easter, not the other way around.
We celebrate Lent because there IS an Easter. We don't find our way to Easter because there is a Lent. The brightness, the joy, the peace, the dawning, the joy of Easter - THAT'S why we enter into the somewhat more grey days of Lent. And yet - even in the "grey days" we can't lose sight of the brightness, the spring breeze that blows around us, the REASON for our Lenten journey that's never really apart from us - the Easter that draws us forward.
We don't "earn" Easter with our Lent, we celebrate Easter through our Lent. We're never closed off from it.
Yes, indeed, today was the perfect day to begin Lent. I have a greater sense now of what St. Benedict meant in his Rule when he said for the monk Lent should be always before the monk - every day should be a Lent. The sunny days, the grey days, the muggy unpleasantness of the days as well as the crisp refreshing awakening days. Every day, we should see and find and embrace both...and be amazed at the beauty of it all.