Some notes on Lent from Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time

When Christmas seems barely over, and when the light of Epiphany has only begun to disclose who Jesus is, the season of Lent arrives.

Although it begins and ends with a cross, however, Lent’s name means ‘”spring,” and its purpose is a springtime purpose. This season opens a renewing space in time, a trench into which we can shovel whatver must die in us – different for each person – before new life can come. Making good on this opportunity requires intention and attention. Like the poet-farmer Wendell Berry in “A Purification,” we sort through the results of our efforts and separate the worthy from the waste. We do the earthy housekeeping of self-examination, and we confess that we have not been paying attention. Just as Jesus will soon be buried in the tomb, we bury some of what separates us from him. (p. 92-93)

She includes Berry’s poem…

At the start of spring I open a trench

In the ground. I put into it

The winter´┐Żs accumulation of paper,

Pages I do not want to read

Again, useless words, fragments,

Errors. And I put in it

The contents of the outhouse

Light of the sun, growth of the ground,

Finished with one of their journeys.

To the sky, to the wind, then,

And to the faithful trees, I confess

My sins: that I have not been happy

Enough, considering my good luck

Have listened to too much noise,

Have been inattentive to wonders,

Have lusted after praise.

And then upon the gathered refuse

Of mind and body, I close the trench,

Folding shut again the dark,

The deathless earth. Beneath that seal

The old escapes into the new.

And this word of warning…

…the Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, a great lover of the liturgy, warned that without the unsettling presence of the Holy Spirit, this liturgical year can become “the more or less antiquated decoration of religion,” and a quaint “audio-visual aid” instead of a “root of Christian life and action.” (p. 109)