Fat Tuesday, the day to live it up and indulge, as if we need permission go all in on our vices. Don’t get me wrong, I love the parades, I love the beads, I love the excitement and energy. I love the idea of celebration together, so little to celebrate these days. A thousand miles away from the big party in New Orleans, still the day before fasting begins arrived and I wondered at what it all really means. In our home we have been fasting for several months, leaving hope and joy out of our daily diets. We have avoided high calorie elation and glee, sticking to the austerity foods of despair and depression. Chef surely has been on this strict diet, I have to admit to cheating snacks on the side, away from his view. Time with friends allowed me to feast on bits of glee and slices of hope. Sermons at church fed me reminders of hope, Plum always brings a taste of joy. Finally, we are entering back into a season of dining together on these delicacies and the thought of fasting for another 40 days is unsettling. We just left the dark wilderness yet the calendar is calling us back into it as we walk with Jesus in preparation for Easter. I want to Easter now.
I have to wonder though at the timing. We have been wandering for 8 months now. We finally see some light and are asked to wander some more, spiritually at least. What is to be gained by turning back around? What did Jesus gain from that time of separation? He was tempted, He prayed intentionally, He was prepared for the darkest times ahead. It would be easy to lose the lessons gained from our own wanderings, lose the humility, the centering, the focus of the wilderness now that light is shining in our eyes. Excitement that comes with new beginnings can cause us to forget that we are merely on the edge of the forest, not yet clear of shadows and the chill. Old habits can resurface, did we wander long enough to internalize the trail markers and remember how we found our way out?
Of course, the season of Lent calls us to slow down, to check our pace. Chef is just getting up to speed again, but I have to consider that maybe I have been running a bit too fast. A pit stop to check my vitals feels unnecessary as I rush forward into my more, the tug to slow down feels like punishment, like when I was a teenager and gave up chocolate for Lent. Truly a sacrifice when I have great momentum. Candy never was more enticing than those 40 days without, never tasted sweeter than Easter morning when I found my basket filled with my favorite kinds. But many times I would discover that I didn’t really want it as much as I thought, it was merely the idea of it, the longing, the knowing I couldn’t have it. Cravings for Three Musketeer and Snickers bars were replaced with thoughts of Jesus on the cross. By the time I was free to indulge again, I found my diet had changed, my desires had changed. If only I hadn’t worked so hard to push this candy back in. Because every year whatever I have chosen to let go of for Lent was really something I needed to let go of for good. A supreme sacrifice for 40 days was preparation for the rest of my life. I have yet to accept the offer. Will this be the year that I offer up my rushing that leaves others behind? Will this be the season that sees me sacrifice my constant movement to spend some quality time in the wilderness, alone with God?
My pastor marked Plum’s forehead with ashes and my soul broke open, I almost fell to the floor crying. Plum looked so earnestly into the pastor’s eyes, absorbed his deep words of God’s love, and then returned to his seat to wiggle and jostle the boys around him. A holy moment lost in “little boy too late in the evening” rowdiness. Still I bore witness. The pastor etched my forehead with ashes and I am not sure I have ever felt more loved. I am pretty sure Jesus was speaking through this man, I think that quite often. But this night, in this moment, he and I were alone, the others all fell away. He spoke words of affirmation while marking ashes along my forehead. Life giving hope out of the death of my Jesus. The moment was actually too powerful for me to sit with my family, my friends any longer in the sanctuary. I left and returned to my safe alone place, the kitchen where I could weep undetected. I may have looked like a martyr to others as the service ended and I was finishing the meal clean up, they didn’t know I was selfish and needed more time alone with Jesus who had just touched my soul.
The season of Lent is powerful, leads us to the cross, to Calvary, to the empty tomb, to the proof of resurrection. Lent is calling me to slow down and stand on the edge of the forest, accept some darkness, address a bit the ugliness that runs freely in my hidden wilderness. Last night I spent some time with Jesus who promised to go with me on the journey, who told me that I was worth it, He was worth it. My soul is worth it. I will eat chocolate, I will continue to drink Coke. This Lenten season I am doing some soul work. Back the wilderness I go.