The Net of Lent

Here’s my Ash Wednesday confession for you: I don’t understand Lent, and my lack of comprehension of it is exceeded only by my dislike for it.

Mind you, I don’t dislike Lent because of any harsh Lenten discipline I take on for the 40 days. My 10-year-old voice says, “I hate Lent because it’s stupid. If you’re going to change something about yourself, then do it because you want to change, not because The Church calendar has wobbled around to this time of year, based on some complicated formula that has to do with the lunar cycle!” My adult voice says, sometimes sarcastically, “I dislike Lent because I have yet to develop an appreciation for it.”

If you’ve been reading me for any amount of time, then it should not come as a surprise to you that The Crooked Line refers, at least in part, to the lurching journey of that subspecies known as HotHeadius. I weave and stagger through things that baffle or interest me, forming opinions and discarding them, breathing in doubt and exhaling certainty, sometimes within seconds of each other. Despite what the people who live with me might think, these speedbumps and switchbacks aren’t always externally evident.

Maybe some of what makes me CrankyJoy about Lent has to do with this goofy business of setting the date of Easter. Unless you live in a cave, far away from the things of man, you know that Jesus was born on December 25. Yes, it’s an arbitrary date, and yes it’s most likely based on pagan Winter Solstice celebrations, but at least it’s fixed!

But nooooooooooo, not Easter. Unless you live in the cave where the secret Easter-date-setting formula is kept, along with the recipes for Coke and Kentucky Fried Chicken, you have to consult a church calendar or the Internet to figure out when Easter is. And then there’s the complication of which Easter you’re referring to, since Western Christianity and Eastern Orthodox Christianity use different Easter-date-setting formulas. So I’ll help you out. This year Western Christianity celebrates Easter on April 24. Two years from now it’ll be on March 31. You folks who came here looking for Easter dates for Eastern Orthodox Christianity will have to consult Wikipedia, just like I did.

As often happens to me during my CrankyJoy hotheaded rants, I had an aha! moment yesterday. It’s a little one, but it might grow into a bigger one over the next 40 or so days. Here I was, clacking away on my keyboard, wondering why is it that in the Crazytown of Christianity, our savior gets one birthday, but he’s executed on a different day every year.

Then the blender of my brain jerked into Puree mode (it had been cruising at the more leisurely Chop speed) and the whole thing of Jesus’ different death days started whirring around with thoughts about my friend E over in the next town, lying in her hospice bed, wondering when death is coming for her. The mighty vortex of those pureeing thoughts started pulling in all sorts of stuff: memories of my dead grandparents who continue to inform me in ways I sometimes actually understand, wonderments about a couple of people in my life who are still living but from whom I am so estranged that they might as well be dead, reflections on my evolving relationship with my new spiritual advisor, my continued amazement at the rebirth I feel in my job, and so on.

As the blender has begun to slow down, I wonder if maybe we have to mark Jesus’ death and resurrection on a different day in the spring every year to remind us that our lives are strewn with deaths (both the noble and the humiliating kind) and rebirths in the same way that the days of our lives are filled with breathing. We’re dying and living and being renewed all the time, in all sorts of different ways that are sometimes immediately obvious and sometimes not.

Maybe there is some comfort to be taken, some wisdom to be drawn from the fact that the net of Lent is cast across a different 40 days every year. A net can be a way to capture or trap or gather things. It can also save people who are falling toward the ground.

It occurred to me this morning that my Lenten discipline this year could be to let go, fall into the Net of Lent, and find five new ways to appreciate it (or, in my 10-year-old brain, to find five things about Lent that aren’t stupid). In which case, I guess I already started my Lenten discipline, by taking enough of a breath to stop and wonder if there might actually be a new meaning that I can take from the goofy mystery of the Easter-date-setting formula. Even HotHeadius knows that the act of simply wondering whether new meaning can be made from something is, in itself, a way of making new meaning. It also helps to press the Off button on the blender brain now and then.


6 responses to “The Net of Lent

  1. So, I was always told that Easter rotated because it was on the Lunar (AkA: Jewish) calendar as opposed to the Gregorian calendar. So just like all the Jewish holidays wander all over the calendar, so does Easter. Is that an old wives tale?
    I think your wrestling with Lent is interesting. As an atheist I was always having to defend my decision to fast on Yom Kippur in order to dodge the hypocrite-bullet every year. The way I think about that fast, giving up everything for one day as opposed to one thing for 40 days is that it is a test of my own personal fortitude and self control. I also find it a time when I’m forced to be self reflective about myself and my behaviors past, present and future, in a way that I’m not through out the year. And I think that might be what the ancient peoples were thinking (albeit they needed to invent a god to decree it) when they invented the rituals. So I fast every year, and even go to temple and meditate, not because I fear the wrath of some higher being or because I fear what might come after this, but because I personally want to be a better human being on this planet now and I want to use the time to check in with myself and make sure I’m on track. :-) That said, a friends daughter gives up “red candy.” Now that is the kind of sacrifice I can get behind.

  2. I heard the lunar calendar thing too, but I like the idea that there may be some more metaphorical reason for the difference. One thing I find different in Advent vs. Lent is that during Advent, we tend to be so much more fixated on the endpoint, on the specific day when it always ends. Every year. Without fail. But with the wandering period of Lent, the process of Lent is more in focus. Easter feels more like an end of a journey, an earned celebration, than Christmas, which we get even though we don’t deserve it, just by holding our breath and waiting for the right day. As a former church musician who has worked mostly in high Episcopal and Latin-Mass friendly Catholic churches, I have always loved Lent more than any other time. I love the observation of saying goodbye to the Alleluias for 40 days, this feeling of bereftness that forces you to focus inward for solace. Maundy Thursday is my favorite service of the church year.

  3. Thoughtful, as always. Thanks.

    I grew up Southern Protestant, where Easter was a big deal, but Lent was not. Southern Protestants didn’t give up Anything in those days ( a long time ago) or talk about anything that might faintly smack of Catholicism.

    So Lent came into my life when I took Episcopalian instruction (Did they call it that?) as a young adult in Kentucky. The Episcopalians were the only ones in our army base town who didn’t rant, so feeling the need of church, that is where we went.

    I like Lent. I’ve always liked it, and what I think that liking is about is this: it gives me a chance, really an “instruction” to put down a lot of “stuff” for 40 days and focus on an interior life. It also allows me to remember back and look forward (maybe examine is the word here, or consider? or be?). I started off Lent today by sitting in service where I felt safe enough to cry.

  4. I’m a big geekyhead for the lunar calendar thing, at least in this instance; I’m quite excited about how late Easter is this year.
    When else does the whole (Western) world’s calendar get so kicked about by the full moon and the equinox? (Which, dancing together, cause the sliding date: Equinox–>next full moon–>next Friday–>next Sunday is Easter.) Speaking of pagan celebrations, how about that?!
    Now I’m going to go listen to Purcell’s Funeral Sentences:
    “In the midst of life, we are in death.”

  5. I’m feeling more comfortable here. Maybe there should be an ‘anti-Lent’ seminar and not lead by ‘pro-Lent’ folks. Thanks for being hot-headed and ornery.

  6. With a staunchly Congregationalist soul, I, too, have always felt the ritual of giving up some thing for Lent to be a Papist and therefore suspect thing. Until Jim Weiss talked about giving up for Lent those things that keep us from loving, I was a snot-nosed brat about the whole idea. But this makes sense to me, particularly as I find more and more things in this 21st century life to be snarky about. So it’s become my Lenten exercise, at which I’m not very good yet, but at least it’s something to strive for. And then I try to forget that Lent is over, so that I can try to keep the practice going for longer than the 40 days.

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