Today is Ash Wednesday and so starts my Lenten journey. Bring on the sackcloth and ashes; bring on the fasting and purging of excess! Take away the adornments and the Alleluia! Strip the altar bare and forego the glad tidings. Time to embrace suffering, loss, and sadness! REPENT!
But wait a minute. Didn’t Jesus bring us the “Good News”? Why must my journey through Lent be dismal? Why must these 40 days be all doom and gloom? Following the rules of fasting and abstinence doesn’t mean my Lenten journey must be joyless – does it? I suppose due to a healthy dose of Catholic guilt I’ve always felt bad about enjoying things a little too much during Lent. But thanks to my grandson Noah, this year will be different for me. Jesus said, “Bring the little children to me” so therefore I’m a big believer in three year-old wisdom.
This is what Noah taught me:
Last Sunday at Mass the choir was singing “Stand By Me” and of course the refrain repeats “stand by me” several times. During this hymn Noah launched into a sort of free-flowing liturgical dance (this boy loves music!). Anyway, I quietly suggested that he take a seat next to me. In a very loud and emphatic three year-old voice he told me, “But them just say-ded STAND BY ME!”
And he proudly stood. Rightly so.
By Noah’s example it occurred to me that standing (or dancing) or whatever joy we feel shouldn’t be diminished because of “what we should do”. God gives us joy to share with others; love is only love when given away. Lent shouldn’t just be about ‘giving up’ but also about ‘letting go’. Letting go of my preconceptions of what is right or wrong; what is worthy or unworthy; what is vital and what is unnecessary.
So this year I will reflect and pray and atone but I will not be sad. I will carry joy in my heart and I will STAND (and with Noah’s help I might even dance a little).
I hope that your spiritual journey this Lenten season is filled with hope, love and peace. But mostly joy!
When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. Matthew 6:17-18