Since I was a child Lent has been a time to focus on some aspect of my life that needs improvement, discipline or at least attention.
When I was young I gave up a candy (never made it through the whole 40 days); several years as a young adult I attempted daily mass; for most of my adult years I paid attention to fasting. Now, as a senior- citizen, I am technically “freed” from the Lenten practices and yet each year as Ash Wednesday rolls around I find myself reflecting on the wisdom of Praying, Fasting, and Almsgiving,
This year, I must confess awareness of Lent has been fleeting as my focus was on plans for a winter get-away trip to Florida with my daughter. I had lots of trip rewards points and she was eager for an adventure having spent most of the Fall grieving her empty nest now that the youngest of her six children left for college.
SO MUCH FOR PLANS! ENTER COVID-19
Reading and listening to the news each day of the rapidly spreading virus we decided to cancel our trip, realizing airplanes carry a special risk of being infected. The news became more personal as my oldest son who works for Peace Corps told me of the scramble to get Peace Corps volunteers out of China and other high-risk areas. A grandson in college had to pack up and head home for online classes. My granddaughter’s fiancé, a first-year medical student, received word that his classes are cancelled.
One message that has become abundantly clear: WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL. I recall that old joke: “if you want to make God laugh tell him/her your plans.”
So here I am approaching mid-Lent. I am personally disappointed, but on a much larger scale I am fearful for our world.
How do we live in these circumstances?
There is heightened meaning in the ritual words recited on Ash Wednesday as the sign of the cross is planted on our foreheads: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” There is no denial of our mortality in those words. I agree with Bishop Kenneth Carder: “there is a strange freedom in acknowledging our own frailty and mortality. The idols of control, self- aggrandizement and invincibility are stripped away.”
A wise woman once told me, “you don’t have to ‘do’ Lent, Lent comes to you.” Could I welcome and find meaning in the age-old practices of Lent – Praying-Fasting-Almsgiving – translated by me as Trusting in God (meditation works!), Living Simply, Focusing on Others’ Needs? Sounds like a plan.