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.
There's an old song that sings about 'carrying moonbeams home in a jar'. I've always loved that song because it was one my mother used to sing when she was happy. I'm going to put it on my request list for the next sing along which we just do around our house all the time. Which is not the truth. Most of our singing is done in our hearts. We love music and have had some rather talented, musical players in the family but Mom and I don't count ourselves along their company. The funny thing is - I like to hear Mom sing. I don't think she would say the same for me except for one night we were camped around the kitchen table playing rummy and I broke into, King of the Road and she had a surprised look on her face said -
You could sing. I mean you don't sound horrible. You can actually sing that song.
Let's just say the bar is set incredibly low when it comes to my singing abilities. And apparently King of the Road by Roger Miller is the beginning and end of my repertoire but at least I have one go to favorite. I am much more Cameron Diaz character in My Best Friends Wedding singing Karoke at horrible warbler levels. I have had some bad singing experiences (like my 6th grade teacher trying to get me to harmonize with the other girls for a performance and going DON'T YOU GET IT???? WHY DON'T YOU GET IT???? I think she ended up telling me to mouth the words and not sing.) and those kind of things kinda shut down your performance schedule for the next fifty years.
Thankfully if people try to shut me up from telling stories I don't pay attention to them and won't shut up if they ask me to. And I do this thing called RADIO where I talk some, interview others, and play great music. I do not sing along.
I could not sleep. Could. Not. I tried Valerian root, warm milk, reading, no blue screens, more blanket, less blanket, fresh air, not air. Just as I was falling asleep I'd think of something that would startle me awake. I thought I heard Mom calling me in a desperate way. I startled awake, got up to go downstairs to check on her. Nope. Just my imagination. I almost went to sleep again. Startled awake. Wondered if I had forgotten to pour water on the fire I had started outside earlier. Mom was in the swing and me in the chair and we were in catch up mode as she pointed out which flowers needed more water. (watering flowers is Mom's thing and she has the greenest thumb I've ever known. I have figured out I can grow plants that don't have flowers. Ferns and ivy's. And, really, who can ever have enough fern and ivy?) Soooo I said - we should have a fire. And I got the lighter fluid and kept tossing it on the wood and relighting it to the whoosh sound. Mama said - you are gonna set yourself on fire. And I said - no, I'm not. I just like the instant heat. And, by the time we were ready to come in the wood actually caught fire.
Startle awake because suddenly I swear I can smell smoke and if the fire restarted it could blow embers onto my car which would blow up and that would catch the house on fire . . . I put on my garden boots and stomp downstairs and out the door. There is no fire. There is mist hanging on the trees so there is that dripping sound that is just the wet of the night air. But the sky is cloudless, the stars are out. It smells clean and good and I think to my surprise, This is August in the deep south and I could camp tonight by a fire. Camping. Something I haven't done in a while that I miss. (I have a new mastermind camping plan that involves Vespa's, the Natchez Trace, and one great backpack. This is a new plan that was inspired by riding the greyhound bus for forty thousand hours and it's still in the making.) But right now I'm in the backyard and I'm amazed at the peace and the quiet and the light. I decide to go to the front porch to see the moon. So I go back in, lock up that door and go out the front door.
And there was the moon. Pushing to full. And I thought - OH, it's you. No wonder I'm not sleeping. Full moons have a waking effect on me. Even if I can't see them. Call it strange or wondrous or both but like an animal - I am aware. I looked at the moon and at the new lights compliments of Nashville electric that light up the driveway in the dark. The light spills gently through the leaves of the trees and It reminds me so much of Daddy's creek and the light doing the same. I am thankful for the comfort of them. And I stepped to the edge of the porch where it's open and looked up at the sky and there she was in all her glory. A moonbeam! At first I thought I was looking at the milky way but then I realized no, this is something different. This is light. It is - Moonlight. And, it is a moonlight moonbeam shooting over my house and into the sky. I have seen many thing but I have never seen anything exactly like this. It was worth not sleeping.
If I hadn't taken time to sit with Mom and visit a little late yesterday, I wouldn't have seen it. Because I wouldn't have started a fire. And I wouldn't have startled awake in the wee hours to stagger outside have asleep and be accosted by starlight and fresh air and that moon.
I am always amazed at the things in life that catch me unaware. The moments that seem wrapped in surprise. The ways that natural elements combine to create something I see for the very first time. Still. At this age. At any age.
I hope tonight I get some much needed rest. But if I startle awake, out come the boots. I'll make some tea and head to the porch, look up at the sky and sing Moonbeams softly into the night.
Wherever you are hope you are able to catch a sacred, magical moment of your own and carry it gently to bed and into your dreams.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.