Lent...What to do?
He grew up Baptist, in the South. This doesn't explain everything; then again, it comes close.
Lent. He could remember hearing folks say things like 'I'm sure I lent you that rake last fall' or 'look, numbnuts, I lent you $20 already.' He couldn't recall anyone saying 'my, Lent is such a poignant time' or 'the Lenten retreat last weekend was simply cathartic!' Of course there was always the alternate spelling - lint - and he could hear his mother's voice: 'still damp? check the lint filter on the dryer.'
Lent. The season leading up to Holy Week, sacred days with the cherry on top deemed Easter. Now Easter he knew, that was old stompin' grounds - 'up from the grave he arose (he arose), with a mighty triumph o'er his foes (he arose). Easter was the old rugged cross nailed from head to toe with lilies, choirs belting out Sandi Patti anthems and always a soloist crooning that Dallas Holm standard, sunrise services where two or three were gathered together facing east to greet the rising sun, spiraled ham and green bean casserole for lunch, and afternoon egg hunts for the kiddos.
But Lent? From what he'd observed the last few years, years where he'd been a rover among the faithful who loved to light candles and sip communion wine, Lent was quiet and still and damn near sad. You were encouraged to ponder Christ's sufferings all decked out in the appropriate seasonal hues of contemplation and contrition. It was sorta like 40 days of hearing Jesus say 'look, numbnuts, I lent you my blood on the cross, what have you done for me lately?' It was sorta like that, he thought.
He did not voice these musings to his immediate circle of friends. They were, without exception, Lenters. Where he grew up, folks used to press if you'd prayed the sinner's prayer. If you hadn't, they were usually happy to help lead you through it, line by line, so you didn't spend an eternity where the worm never dies and Hitler dines with Judas. These days his friends would talk about Lent with almost the same weight, sorta like it was the sinner's season, and if you didn't observe 'the bright sadness' and by chance happened to fall into a wood chipper or something, you just might be the ticker-tape in the hell parade. At the very least skipping Lent left you unprepared to truly experience all the stations of Passion Week. About the only remedy for this is slamming a case of quick-penance, e.g., watch that Mel Gibson movie three or four times to get really good and Mel-ancholy.
Lent. What to do? He pondered this in his quiet time, a residue from his Baptist youth group days. The Lenters, without exception, gave up things they enjoyed during the season. Last year his friends temporarily broke the idol-chains of coffee, chocolate, the movies, and the internet, to name a few. He didn't give up anything and seemed to weather the season with aplomb while he watched his pleasure-denying Lenter friends get snippy and snippier and a couple of times just downright mean. It was sorta like his friends were having a 40 day menstrualpalooza, he thought.
Still, Lent. What to do? Then he realized his question was too universal. He needed to get specific, local, bring it downtown; the real question was - what would a Baptist, from the South, do? As soon as that thought crossed his quiet-timed mind, he heard the Sunday night special that always made him weep as a boy -
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter's snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer.
That's it. While his friends were suffering the mortifications of the flesh and serving the least of these with justice and moodiness, he would lent his prayers to the world, both neighbor and numbnut. He purposed to write them out on his blog beginning on Ash Wednesday, not store-bought prayers addressed to the Ground Of Our Being (god help us), but word-groans hurled right into the nail-scarred mitts of Jesus. His hope? Well, he had a college prof, back in the South, who introduced him to Tennyson's line: 'more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.' He would lent out his prayers with the hope to wrought dreams. Yes, that's what he'd do.
He decided on a heading for his prayers -The Sweet Return. He felt good about this decision. It fit him.