Lent is not tidy. Days grow longer (the word “Lent” comes from “lengthen”). The ground thaws, and the next thing we know, everything is filthy. Our windows need washing, our temples need cleansing, the earth itself needs a good bath. The English names for these months come from ancient words that reflect the need to roll up our sleeves this season: February (“purification”) and March (“the spirit of war”). Good names. Winter doesn’t leave without blustery battles that push things over and mess things up and even break things. Lent, if we honestly face its fury, will leave the landscape littered with bits and pieces of ourselves.
Sometimes the only antidote is to take more of the poison. And so on our foreheads we rub dirt: Eden gone to ashes, the dustbin emptied of a winter’s worth of soot, last year’s leaves riddles with worms, the broken earth turned by the plow, the dry earth thirsty for water to make it clay for a new creation. And when Lent is done and the Passover arrives we’ll have water in abundance, water to bathe our feet and water to drown the demons and water to wash away the winter. And, as Bishop Ambrose reminds us, even if we forget to fill the font, there’ll be water in abundance in our tears.
Visit me here for inspiration and original prayers for your Lenten liturgies. Ash Wednesday is February 18th!
Blessings of winter’s howl,
[i] Quoted in Gabe Huck and Gerald T. Chinchar in Liturgy with Style and Grace (Archdioceses of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1998) 99.