By The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
The season of Lent comes from the West Germanic word langitinaz which means “lengthening of day” and the Dutch lente which means “spring.”
The days lengthen. The sun returns. Spring emerges. In line with our Christian story, the light (that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it) that began at Christmas unfolds before us as we long for something new—as we long for the renewal and revitalization—the resurrection. But before we see the hope of resurrection, we follow Christ on his journey toward the cross, seeking to know his struggle and encountering the God of love along the way (fitting, yes, that Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day this year, as we seek the God of love, yes?). Lent is a season, a process, and a journey.
As Lent begins, I think of forsythia. You know the ones I mean, right? Big echoing mustard colored flowering branches that poke out in every direction looking wild and wonderful: a flock of canary yellow, shooting out above your head sometimes, bright as the Tuscan sun.
I think of the forsythia that lined the forest path at Hanover College the first year I truly took up a spiritual discipline for the 40 days before Easter. My best friend fasted. That was too dramatic for me. I’d only ever given up chocolate or soda or meat for Lent. But, inspired by her fast, I split the difference and chose to take a walk every day.
I walked the forest path along the edge of campus and day by day the white glimmer and crunch of snow turned to dirty slush and then the brilliant yellow of the forsythia emerged in its wake. Admittedly, the forsythia blooms earlier in Hanover, Indiana down south on the Ohio River.
As the forsythia emerged, a deep river of God’s presence did, too. It didn’t happen all at once, but slowly, in rhythm with the daily discipline of walking that forest path along the edge of campus.
I know: if you take a walk every day in Lent here in Chicago, you might only see snow. Easter is April 1, and it could even snow for another month after that. But, you’d also see, I hope, a gentle resurfacing of the hope of spring—a first peek into the green grasses and budding flowers that signal renewal and life.
- Receive Ashes on Valentine’s Day (oh, I mean Ash Wednesday)
- Fast (abstain from chocolate, social media, shopping online, a habit that keeps you far from God, or a habit that you’ll miss so much it will help you think of God every time you miss it)
- Read scripture every day (the daily lectionary readings found online, or some psalms, or the Gospel of Mark which is our focus for this season)
- Pray (every morning or evening, when ever you look in the mirror, at every meal, from a new book of prayers you get special for Lent)
- Serve (volunteer, make a special financial gift, sing in the choir, join a small group)
- Rest (in this world on the go, we ignore God’s commandment to “Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy”)