Of love and suffering and compassion
So with Ash Wednesday, today begins the season of Lent.
Lent means, etymologically, spring.
I love that.
It comes from the Old English lencten, which in turn comes from the Germanic langa-tinaz meaning ‘long’ and ‘day,’ the latter word finding a linguistic cousin in the Latin dies, which is where we get the word ‘day.’
Upshot is that it means ‘long day,’ not implying the sort of day after which one wants to curl up in the fetal position and forget, but rather that the sun sticks around longer about this time of year.
That’s a nifty way to consider the beginning of this season, a season all too often associated with how rotten a person is.
I like the notion of new beginnings, you see.
Spring is a time when you can’t help but hope.
How bizarre to consider now the possibility of yellow daffodils splashing across green yards when all one can see (in my part of the world, anyway) is a vast sheet of white. Lots of white, speckled only with the black mud of the street (and other unmentionables mostly having to do with my dog Obi).
Out of frozen winter comes slushy mud, a mud that happens to have come to fruition in part thanks to the rotten onion peels and stale brown banana peels of my kitchen (aided of course eventually by worm waste) discarded into a heap of, well, death.
Compost is a death heap, I suppose, as is dirt.
Dirt is composted death.
And it is precisely in composted death that one finds the possibility of new life.
Spring is the “already-but-not-yetness” of life, the notion that something is stirring even when you least expect it.
So when we consider Ash Wednesday, I think that there is much to be said for considering the reality of death.
But by naming death, we can say, in effect, “Yep. There it is. Squarely front and center for all to see. So faced (quite literally) with the inevitable, perhaps there is something more to do with our lives than preserve them.”
And so Ash Wednesday reminds me of the freedom that death provides in light of the more powerful promise of life.
With this in mind, Ash Wednesday could remind a person that they have in fact suffered–and inflicted–death. And it could be that Ash Wednesday is a day to fling that death to the compost pile so that life can spring forth from it.
Thought in this way, Lent, like spring, could be a time of joy, of newness, of promise, of unbounded freedom, of hope.
What do you think?
This Ash Wednesday is unlike any other Ash Wednesday I’ve experienced…. I’m on internship in California (away from the snowy midwest!), where it actually feels like spring is coming: trees are blooming, the temperature has broken 60.
It is also unlike any other I’ve experienced, because I placed ashen crosses on the foreheads of five year olds to 80+ year olds. I stood in front of a congregation and declared that we are dust and to dust we shall return- but God has promised more. what a powerful experience (& a powerful proclamation!)
I agree, that Lent can be a time of spring: joy, newness, promise, etc… but only after the winter: suffering, death, dead of winter, has happened. I suppose that’s the tension of the “now but not yet”, that even while the promise of spring is coming- and we know that spring is coming, it isn’t always felt. Sometimes I think the only way we get through winter is because of the promise of spring…. (people in Cali have frequently asked how i lived in MN with the horrible winters- i tell them, because it makes spring that much sweeter. i cling to the promise).
Thanks for a great post. It’s been fun to read & wrestle & think & reflect