The following is a transcript from the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Today is episode 10: Let’s Talk About Lent
Well, hello friends. As I’m recording today’s podcast, we are just about one week into Lent of 2021 and I have some thoughts. I bet you do, too. Because of the pandemic and the craziness of the past year, lots of people are feeling like Lent of 2020 never really ended and yet, here we are again. And when we have suffered so deeply and so much has been taken from so many, it’s hard to think of Lent through the same old lens. Hard to answer the question: what are you giving up for Lent this year without you know, giggling.
I remember a light-hearted debate with a friend years ago about the discipline of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent. I eat meat maybe twice a week as it is, and even at that these tend to be very small portions. When I said to my friend that it wasn’t a particularly meaningful discipline for me, he balked and said something about Lenten “rules” and not Lenten “options”. And I’ve thought about that ever since, like, if I was following the letter of the law, I could go out to a very fancy restaurant on a Friday during Lent and eat my very favorite meal: grilled salmon, mashed potatoes, asparagus, salad, plus two glasses of chardonnay, plus an app and a dessert, but I could not eat a two-day old leftover bowl of chili that was sitting in my fridge. Hmm. I guess what I’m getting at here is that, as Catholics, we need to know why we do the things we do during Lent and today I’d like to offer some thoughts that might shift our perspective a few degrees away from the list of practices we might have heard preached on Ash Wednesday and more toward the result we want to see in the end. As it says in the Book of Joel, rending our hearts and not our garments.
Author and podcaster Kate Bowler talks about Lent as beautiful and terrible all at the same time, kind of like life. She has a clear-eyed honesty about the realities that we’re facing but at the same time points us toward hope. This hope is centered in the truth that God walked this same hard road of suffering in humanity that we walk – He’s with us – embodied, in whatever our reality is today. Fr. James Martin points us toward kindness as a Lenten practice in this world that really needs it right now – intentional kindness to ourselves and others would be a great discipline in this time. And I’ll link these resources, plus many more in today’s show notes.
But the part of Lent that I’m focusing on this year has its roots in etymology. The word Lent actually means ‘spring’ or ‘season of spring’, from the old English word ‘lencten’, referring to the lengthening of days. And thinking about Lent through a lens of springtime – well, for me, that kind of changes everything.
Spring is by far my favorite season. I love watching the first plants come up and feeling the first warm breezes. I love shedding the coats and seeing the first buds on the trees, when they make kind of that green haze up there in the branches. There is a small corner on my front porch that gets a triangle shape of sun in March or April and you can find me there sitting on the step the very first day it hits 60 degrees. Okay, maybe 55. This year, maybe 51.
The point is that spring is a time of transition, a time that points us toward hope of more things growing. In spring there is the promise of ease after a long and hard winter. In the same way we can walk with Jesus in the time of Lent, fully seeing and realizing the hard realities in ourselves, our families, our church, our community, our country and our world, and yet still looking ahead, feeling for the warm glimpses of sun that we know are coming.
In Lent, we might cut back on some things just as we might prune back some particular trees or bushes in springtime. Or maybe we’ll feed our spiritual lives or, even better, feed or care for real live people in need, just as we nurture or feed some plants this time of year. And all of this can be good, healthy, and productive, but maybe this year we could be more mindful of why we are pruning, why we’re making the sacrifice, or adding the devotion, or doing the service.
When we prune, we take out the dead and diseased branches first, and maybe for us this is a relationship, practice or habit that we know is harmful to us or others. That’s so good! Same goes for feeding or nurturing or serving. We undertake these practices not because someone told us to, but rather with an eye toward the shape or health of the thing that we want to see in the end: the tree or the self or the family, community, church, country, or world. The whole goal of pruning or feeding a plant or a human life is more growth, more beauty, more blossoming. Seeing our Lenten practices as a way to make more space for God to grow more beautifully in us will serve us so much more than just checking the box, don’t you think? Because it’s true, we have given up so much already. Adding chocolate to that list, for me, this year, just does not seem fruitful. This has been a hard season, and what we need is more light and hope, and actually, I don’t know about you, but even in this present darkness, there is something in my spirit that is pointing to a great deal of fruit that will come out of this difficult time: lots of color and blooming ahead, I think. Maybe you feel that, too.
In the spring, we rake out the muck and we clean up the spaces that have been hit by a cold and hard winter but also, we rise. Those bulbs that have been sitting in the frozen ground unseen by anyone have been hard at work this whole time – just as you and I have been – and when those daffodils and tulips poke their pretty heads out of the ground and grow toward the sun – well, that feels just like a miracle, because it is one.
Friend, these flowers are a picture of us.
Maybe we too have felt buried by illness or loss, systemic injustice, unemployment or isolation. Maybe we’ve worked hard to grow even in the dark, unseen, without any guarantee for what the future might bring. And maybe in the springtime of this Lent we will emerge from the mess and the muck, raised and called by the Son, and blossom in a way we never have before.
After all, this is what Easter is all about, isn’t it? Death and resurrection, the promise of new life. It’s ours, friend, a gift from our friend, Jesus. Each day a little bit closer and thanks be to God for it.
As the Beatles said, here comes the sun. It’s been a long, cold lonely winter, but here comes the sun. Are you singing it now, friend, our new Lenten anthem? Ah, I hope so, and I’ll sing it right along with you this Lent.
Thanks so much for joining me today. If you’d like to engage with me on this topic, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. If you liked this podcast, would you please consider sharing it with a friend, rating, reviewing and subscribing? That will get this message out to more people and I really appreciate that, so thanks in advance.
Okay friend, let us pray.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Dear God, today we are like bulbs in the cold dark ground. We are working hard at growing, shifting, and reaching for light, so please shine on us this Lent. Shine on us and our dear ones too, right in this moment with the grace of Your Son. Call us forward in love. As Psalm 80 says, let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved. Oh God, we have learned in this hard year our need for You and in this transition of Lent as we emerge from the darkness, help us with Your grace to grow and bloom in Your wonderful light.
And we pray all of this in the name of Christ our Lord, amen.
Oh, my friend, I am wishing you every blessing of this Lenten spring, and I’ll see you next time.