Clara May and Frieda practiced their faith in everyday life, not just on Sunday and other religious days. They carried it with them out the door, not like some in town who put it in the pew pocket when they replaced the hymnal. I was honored to know them (or people like them) when I was growing up and I try to practice their simply faith.
After Mardi Gras Tuesday the season of Lent is upon us. Over the years church tradition has evolved this season into a ritualistic practice of penance and preparation for the resurrection. As I grow older I become cynical about the church’s use of these traditions. I am not sure I need to imitate suffering or practice penance to understand the significance of the resurrection and life of Jesus.
Lenten practices became codified at the Council of Nicea 325 CE. The root of the word lent is Anglo Saxon, Lencton, meaning spring. I prefer a more general definition of Lent than that offered by the church: returning to life, or returning from inactivity. Finding and exhibiting daily examples of love, caring, and resurrection of the spirit of Jesus’ teachings makes the season real to me, and takes it outside the doors of the church making Lent a universal concept: the anticipation of renewal, rebirth, creating and or gathering the necessary constituents to sustain and create life.
At Christmas I received an Amaryllis encased in its sepulcher of earth, and began watering it the day of arrival. I checked daily on its progress, sometimes not to patiently, while Dan made sure it was watered. Finally a tiny twig emerged which overnight developed a large bud atop its green stock. Suddenly on Valentine Day it burst forth in three glorious red blossoms, a reward for our diligence and anticipation.
The Amaryllis reminds me of my childhood, and a simpler meaning of the Lenten season. I have no recollections of church Lenten traditions despite my family regularly attending church. Lunch in the school cafeteria clued me in to the start of Lent because the Friday menu was fish sticks or macaroni and cheese. Only in adulthood did I know the significance of those meatless meals.
Though church traditions were not part of my childhood Lenten season, I understood the meaning of attentive anticipation. When Christmas holidays and the excitement of presents were only a memory, I looked foreword to Easter because it was the next major event in a child’s life. There would be Easter baskets full of candy, special presents, dying Easter eggs, hunting the ones Mom and Grandpa hid, a new suit, new shirt, new shoes, freedom from snowsuits, mittens, boots, and time to go barefoot in grass again. It was also a time when farmers and their families realized that the prosperities of their life were only partially dependent on their works.
Once farmers did their part, they realized a power higher than themselves controls rain, sun, as well the absence or presence of insects. At the hint of a spring thaw, Dad, Uncles, Grandpa, neighbors, all farmers could be found in machine sheds greasing plows, tuning tractor engines, cleaning planters, and generally readying all implements for fieldwork. As the earth warmed, colors of spring emerged from their winter sleep: yellow jonquils, white lily of the valley, red tulips, purple hyacinth, blue crocus, white pussy willows, and green leaf buds. It was time to till the land for planting crops and preparing a garden for food that would sustain us through the year. We all did our part in assuring a resurrection of earth’s bounty, here and now: our continued nourishment, our existence. In farm country it’s still a truth today.
Just like church history and its traditions compel us to a future life on the ghosts of those gone before us, I find unpretentious hope when my present day understanding of the Lenten season is augmented by youthful unsophistication. Perhaps it would behoove us all to recall that innocence: when we were excited by anticipation, when we didn’t know a friend’s religion, when church had no doors.