That’s how a sign read outside a church near my brother’s home on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Some Lent indeed. When we consider all of the deprivations of the recent weeks, it’s hard to imagine a harsher Lenten discipline. We’ve given up our plans for the last half of this semester and some are starting to become anxious about plans for the summer. We’ve given up meeting and eating with one another, we’ve given up on meeting for prayer and the classroom experience which we took for granted but now seem so precious. We’ve given up jobs and paychecks. As I write this, a campus alert has gone out confirming the first case of COVID-19 in a member of our campus community. Before that news, some shared with sorrow that a beloved member of the Psychology faculty and former President’s marshal, Dr. Stanley Hughes, had died in hospice. Sadly, none of his friends or colleagues were permitted to be with him in his final days among us. We know, given the projections, that some of the Valpo family will be personally impacted by the death of loved ones this pandemic.
The grieving for what is and what is to come is palpable. It can make one nostalgic for the polite deprivations of Lent’s past: chocolate, alcohol, salty snacks. I’d happily give up all three just to have the joyful experience of worship at the Chapel of the Resurrection among dear friends.
It’s hard to know what to do.
“You know, it used to be, we would have marked days like these with repentance, prayer and fasting.” observed a friend of mine. He’s a historian of the medieval period, so he thinks about such things. “Now,” he said, “we panic-buy toilet paper.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “that hardly seems like an improvement.”
Many of us are resolved to keep our cool. We’re going to continue to conduct our classes and do our work the best we can. Those on the front line of this thing are going to do our duty for the sake of our neighbors the best that they can. Some of us are resolved to find the blessings that are hidden, even in times like these. It might not be prayer and fasting, it might be more like taking a break from the news, reaching out intentionally to check on others instead of assuming that they’re okay, marking out time with family for prayer and devotional reading.
It’s been some Lent.
In her book, Happy are Those: ancient wisdom for modern life, Heather Choate Davis reflects on the verse from the first Psalm, “They [the righteous] are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season.” She writes,
As we neared the end of the 20th century, we began to view seasons as something to make an end run around. If people wanted strawberries in December, well then, we’d go where they grow strawberries in December and spray ‘em and pack ‘em and ice ‘em and ship ‘em and – voila!… That we’ve traded in a natural lifecycle for a manufactured stream of tasteless fruit – shiny and deceptive and available on demand – is a consequence we have chosen to ignore.
[In] The Psalms, we hear of a different kind of life. A life of seasons. Seasons of joy and good fruit, to be sure. But also seasons of loss, of sadness, of failure; of uncertainty and rest; of illness and health; of seeking, pondering, raging, resurrecting; an ever-present cycle of death and new life meted out in due course across the landscape of our very human days.
We’ve become so conditioned to persistent productivity, she observes, that we’ve lost touch with the fact it is not only unsustainable, but that our creative productivity depends on times of rest and retreat, on times when we don’t produce much of anything at all. When the most we can muster is just being. It seems to me that we’re collectively in such a time.
We’ve had some Lent and it brought with it some suffering, some grieving, and some learning. This season is about to come to a close. Sunday will mark the start of Holy Week and regardless of whether we can be with one another physically, the Church will mark that week recalling the awful and awesome obedience of Christ. We’ll do so, not as a means of reliving his passion but as a deliberate reminder that in his obedience to the Father’s will, Jesus fully aligned himself with suffering humanity in a suffering creation. He did so and does so, for the sake of a love that knows no bounds, no limits, not even the limits of death.
It will be some Holy Week.
After that, regardless of our circumstances, we’ll have some Easter.
May the obedience of Christ and the hope his resurrection proclaims bring you some peace.
April 1, 2020