It's not your Mother's Lent. Or mine. A friend wrote me yesterday to say she was starting my Lenten study for the umpteeth time that I wrote way back in 2011. Things have changed. A lot. And so, it occurred to me Ashes to Ashes, Dust To Dust, that I should re-visit Lent.
Normally, Lent is one of my favorite Biblical seasons of the year. A quieter repose. Right now, my life feels so rushed and crazy it's not a place I want to settle into. Lent. It means a lot of things to me. Most of them bring to mind a kind of solitary Thomas Merton kind of living. A lifestyle that takes time to reflect. Or a giving up of something - anything - that I might not be in the mood to give up. Sugar. Caffeine. Red Wine. Bread. Meat. Except Chicken. I've had a bout of food poisoning due to a suspicious chicken. Which is what caused me to miss Ash Wednesday services. And doing my radio show. All because of some mysterious chicken salad from a deli that has normally - great chicken salad. But there is the mysterious element of our lives that things can change at any moment. What was once the norm can become oh, no no.
Our normal is done away with in the flash of an instant. Our regular. Our routine. And, that can ultimately be good thing because routines serve their purpose but they can also get us lulled into a state of mind where we are moving at dark speed. Like, we are underwater. Just going through the motions. Where nothing really touches us. Not our emotions or our faith. All of it is commonplace.
Years ago when I wrote my reflections on lent it was for a reason. I had written a book about Praying for Strangers, a silent resolution I had that I never meant to carry out. But I did. And I spoke to people and heard their stories and wrote many of them down in a book that went on to be a bestseller in some areas and beloved by many readers who took on the practice as a spiritual discipline that they carry on to today. I did this for years - not just one - because I saw the results of it in the responses I received when I told people they were my special stranger for the day. I did this in a very Episcopalian way to put it in certain terms. Rock n Roll in others. That is I said it quickly - I do this thing - I say a prayer for a stranger each day before I go to sleep - today your my person - See Ya!
What that means is - it doesn't come off as very, religious in that kind of way. It does come off as sincere. And the story of what happened along the way is that people would stop me as I tried to get away to tell me, "You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today because . . . " or - "Funny you should choose me because . . . " or - simply, "Thank you!"
Over the course of that time I began to value the human heart a little more. No, a lot more. I started seeing through the plastic practiced faces we all wear out into the world. After numerous people went from smiling hello, Saying simple things to Thank you for shopping with us - to breaking down in tears - I realized wow, the whole wide world has a secret underlife going on that no one knows about.
April 2 I have a book coming out thats about being a southern novelist, working my fanny off as a human and as a writer (not literally because I have a maximus not a minimus) and about believing in signs and wonders. What I really want to talk about is fiction, southern fiction, hard driven southern fiction or that old - It was a steamy night in the city by the bay - kind of fiction. But it's Lent. And I have a book coming out called Confessions of a Christian Mystic which leads one to believe it may have 1) Confessions 2) that I'm a Christian and 3) a mystic.
Yes, there shall be stories about all of those things shared on the road. I'm gearing up so to speak. Getting my mind right as the famous line from Cool Hand Luke goes. And if you are anywhere in the neighborhood of one of the cities on tour I'd love to see you. More events are being added weekly so do check back but you can check out the events here. So, what could be a better time than to give my blog over to reflections on Lent. Which means living a messy, faithful life in the middle of all if it. And the ways we continue. And possibly embarking on 40 days of saying a silent prayer for a stranger. Because like the many churches that took on this resolution for Lent when PFS arrived I think I'll join them. Churches of all denominations. And by All I mean all and then some. And agnostics and atheists who said they would find a way to pray for stranger each day.
Lent. It's always been a good time for self-reflection and in that vein self-discovery. I hope these daily offerings, musings, and reflections are something that will offer you sustenance along your journey. Because words matter. And because we are on this journey together.
The sky is a solid mass of unwavering grey today. Aptly fitting for Ash Wednesday. There's no relief of rain. No promise of the parting clouds. Like the whole Earth is in mourning, clinging to its pain. A type of ashen twilight that will last eternal.
Rescue Kevin lays in the bed of leaves outside the door napping in the cool. He doesn't mind the sky at all. When I ask if he wants in he stretches, rolls his eyes in apology that he finds his bed more satisfying than my company. Eventually, Summer will arrive and my company in air conditioning will be much more in demand.
That grey sky today.
Somewhere there are lovers holding hands and making promises I hope last beyond the next full moon, the next low tide. The breathing in and out of this planet. That they have loves made out of storybooks.
Yet, somewhere too, there is an old person sitting all alone, looking out the window, hoping someone will ring the doorbell or their phone. A delivery perhaps from a sweetheart who has remembered them from old times past.
Last night I drove to the store and a firetruck rushed past it's siren wailing. The coyotes began their high pitched wails in response. I noticed how far they were up on that ridge beyond the river. I wonder where will they go now that we've come and inch by inch are taking everything. Where will all the wild ones go?
Today collides two events I've spent a lifetime observing. An unlikely paring of Valentines- that day of kisses and chocolate candies, and Ash Wednesday, that day of ashes and repentance.
Grade school was made for Valentines. We made those silly little envelopes and taped them to our desks. Then we went around dropping tiny envelopes in one another's mailboxes always hoping that our secret crush would choose that one large card in the pack that said something special and cryptic like - Valentine I Swoon for You. All the rest of them said, you are sweet, kind, my friend.
Being raised Episcopalian Ash Wednesday held a special significance. We went for ashes to be placed on our forehead in the form of the cross and the priest said, Ashes to ashes, dust to dust in a somber voice and then continued down the line - From the dust you came and to the dust you will return.
That this day falls on Valentines this year is simply Southern gothic perfection. I can consider the wages of love and repentance, sweetness and loss, in one swift hand.
The wind blows unrelenting. The fingerbones of the trees waving against the dismal sky. A lone crow calls out.
Perfect Lenten weather.
Perhaps tonight the sky will clear and lovers will find stars above them as they thread their way through streets to dinner. Or their love may cast its own bright light in all the darkness. Then, so be it. Let them drink and celebrate their lives bound together.
My life found more ashes than I expected but also more love. A kind of general love that meets the world beyond the walls of my cynic heart. This love - it leaps over me. Makes way for itself in spite of my comments and asides. This wild love knows something fierce. Something more akin to forty days than heart-shaped papers. A love born in deserts, surrounded by space and darkness, wilderness and wild.
I've longed for such I do confess. In times long past. A willingness to lay down myself, become another. A partnership of perfection. Eternal kisses, forever bliss.
Now the rain comes, it hits the glass in large drops unrelenting. Look. The sky finds relief after all. At least something moves, something happens.
For years I've seen in other peoples eyes, this one here and that one there - a type of kinship. Knowing another soul ar first meeting. A fast friends type of thing, brushing lives with a stranger in a line or some odd place. A mechanic shop. A bar. A bank. A struck up conversation. Not a romantic kind of love but that of just the sameness of being human. Man, woman, child. An understanding. When there is nothing left but craving understanding. It is a - see me. Hear me. Please before I break.
Forty Days. The Lenten Season. A valentine of words. Love and loss. Renewing and remembrance. It is the Yin and yang. The balancing of moon and sun, dark and light.
Love, sometimes a sacrifice. Eternal and Divine on scale of God as man or just a tiny act. A little bit of time. A coin. A rose.
Whatever love looks like for you today I hope that you find it - a greater love, a deeper love, an older love, a newer love, first love, last love or the soulmate that you seek.
The rain is steady now. It's become a small downpour. The driveway is washing away down the road. Kevin takes me up on a dry towel and a bone. We've come together to celebrate what it means to be alive in this life. Up on this hill. Watching the rain fall while voices of all manner whisper through this night, 'I Love you' and 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust.'
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.