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The Divine Hours of Lent

A long, long time ago, I wrote a series of books…more correctly, I wrote a cache of stories that ended up in a series of small books…that have shown up over the years in several permutations, most recently as the “Stories from The Farm In Lucy” Series. Those stories were, in retrospect, a lot like this Lenten blog, just unpretentious tales about our life on The Farm In Lucy when it really was operative as a farm and when our children were still at home with us sharing the work and the experience of living, at least in part, off the land and its provender. Those stories were also, as much as anything else, commentaries about how it is to live out the seasons of the physical year in terms of the pacing and rhythms of the liturgical year. It doesn’t take many years of outdoor living to know in one’s bones as well as one’s soul that religion keeps earth time….not many years to receive intimately into one’s self the sure knowledge that liturgy only gives form and shape to what the heart and body already know.
Last Tuesday night, as Mardi Gras 2008 was passing into history, the earth herself decided to produce a mighty upheaval. A storm system moved with enormous violence through eastern Arkansas, northern Mississippi, and our part of Western Tennessee. Sam and I were monitoring the weather bulletins on television when the meteorologist said, “It’s turning and bearing down now straight on Lucy.” Almost before he had said the words, we were inundated with such a flood of rain as I can never remember experiencing before. And then, just as abruptly, it was over.
Oh, it rained on of course, but the deluge was done. The television came back on, and we watched. We watched and listened, in fact, as what had been our flood became utter devastation for communities and cities to our north and east. Three people would be killed in our county and over a dozen in the counties around us, several of them in the Jackson, Tennessee area. There, the reality and the horror would be acute. Union University, a fine, prestigious small college of many years standing, would lose a classroom building, much of its manicured campus and–worst of all–two of its women’s dormitories. The ‘worst of all’ is not the dormitories, of course, but the undergraduates who were caught in the buildings as those structure blew away–the undergraduates who were injured physically and those who were scarred forever by being trapped in crumbled bathrooms for hours before they could be dug free.
In about two hours, Sam and I are driving to Jackson. Our going has nothing to do with the Mardi Gras tornadoes. Rather, it has to do with the fact that almost two years ago, I accepted with a light heart the invitation of the First Methodist Church of Jackson to come and be with them on the first Sunday of Lent, 2008. None of us could have known that tomorrow would be remembered more as the first Sunday after the Great Terror than as the first Sunday of Lent.
What does one say on such a week-end? I don’t know, and I may not know even as I am saying it in a few hours. But I do know this. I know that the most violent time of the Christian year always occurs in conjunction with the most violent time of the physical year; and I think that is for a reason.
Death always buys us something. It always comes bearing gifts into life. There are, of course, the cliched observations that the acorn falls and dies in order to become the tree. That the caterpillar dies into the cocoon and emerges as the butterfly. That we die the “little death” of love-making and create new souls in doing so. Admittedly, the fact that those pat statements are indeed pat, does not make them any the less true. The problem is that they are not much help when we have to accept ‘unnatural’ death.
It is much more difficult–almost at times unseemly–to admit that when we die the large deaths of illness and accident, of violence and storms, we are opening a space, however briefly, in time where some sense of impunity holds us for a day or two, an hour or two, a moment or two. It is more frightening to have to acknowledge that in our dying, even the humblest of us interrupts for the rest of us the spirit-dulling opiate of routine. It is much more sobering to have to deal with the fact that any one of us dead is a call for all of us to consider why? Why bother to come and then so quickly and/or violently and/or so painfully go?
Christian or not, believer or not, agnostic or atheist or not, death is the schoolmaster of life, informing our actions, determining our courses, shaping our philosophies. And Lent celebrates in somber hues…and sometimes in violent weather…that immutable reality.

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