One week to Palm Sunday (or will it be Passion Sunday this year?), ten days to Maundy Thursday, and I guess that means two weeks to Easter. Rarely, if ever, has something two weeks away been close enough to pull my attention cord, so I’ll let that one sit for now. I have this feeling that Lent hasn’t had its fair share of attention this year in either my preaching or writing, so I’m scrambling a bit to focus on something Lent-like. But its hard, given everything else that’s stirring.
A walk is usually a good place for me to gather my thoughts and find an angle, but this morning there are so many signs of life calling to me that I don’t have a chance to think about sin, suffering or death. Like those intriguing green shoots out beside our private pond. They’ve grown several inches since last week and still more of them are emerging into the warm sun, but I have no idea what they are or what that mass of leaves is going to do once it stretches to its full height. While I may call it our private pond, whatever animals are bedding down, leaving hair to mark the spot, will likely challenge my sense of possession. And what about that thunderous cacophony of frog/peeper music last night? I remembered the article I just read about the different songs various frogs sing, and thought fleetingly about grabbing it to see what I could identify, but then I was off and back to what I’d been doing while the chorus rang on. Daffodils are growing everywhere; no yellow yet but it won’t be long. Irises are further from color but just as actively growing. Tulips too, but the deer aren’t likely to let them bloom. The maple branch that hangs outside our kitchen window is fat with buds. Even the pine trees are beginning to pop and push with signs of life and growth. How’s a person to think about Lent while all the earth cries Easter?
Then I remembered the leaves I need to rake. Countless leaves, many from last year but I know full well that there are wet, sodden layers underneath with a longer shelf life than my time here. Pine needles galore, mixed with cones, scattered around the trees, covering walkway and rocks, and inviting fire. I’ve already dumped countless wheelbarrow loads onto a burn pile too high and wide to set alight, so what am I supposed to do with these? They can’t stay where they are. They’re choking out life, plugging a culvert and cluttering the landscape. It’s time to scrounge around for the energy to tackle the mess and make way for new growth.
As I climbed the stairs back into the house, my eyes noticed the return of a growth of leaves I often pondered last year. Not sure if they’re friend or foe, I let them be – and they did nothing more than spread. I have the sense this year calls for an approach other than benign neglect. Identification and direction or eradication and control?
I think I just found my Lenten focus. The signs of new life aren’t nearly as prevalent in my soul as our neighborhood, but maybe that’s because I can’t see what’s stirring underground. Perhaps if I turn my attention to raking away the residue of years gone by, I’ll be surprised to find tender shoots gasping for air and thirsting for water. Perhaps it’s time to identify and tackle the weeds clogging up my awareness and limited compassion quotient, with nothing more to say for themselves than sprawling tendrils and unfruitful meanderings. There are no shortage of plants and animals, birds and frogs surrounding me that I know nothing about. I could learn a lot if I bothered to grab the descriptive books or google for new information; then again, just watching, listening, taking it in may be the best path to cherishing the gift.
Doesn’t sound a lot like Lent, does it? I know this isn’t the predictable laundry list of sins folks tend to parade, but I’ve long believed that sin is that which separates us from God, others and the creation that bears God’s fingerprints. Little is more important in Lent than drawing closer to the God who comes so exquisitely, breathtakingly close to us. I can think of no better way to observe these last days of Lent than raking away some ground cover, tackling the weeds, sitting quietly with God and letting the frogs serenade us.