By Katherine M. Bush —
My six-year-old son loves to draw pictures of the seasons. In a very orderly way, he divides his piece of paper into four quadrants and draws an image representing each of the four seasons: a snowman, a tree with green leaves and flowers, a beach scene, a tree with orange and red and brown leaves.
He comes by this naturally. I’m a stickler for buying new pencils at the end of summer, for not putting up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. I want it to get warm on the first day of spring break.
In our church during the early weeks of Lent, the altar is adorned with purple hangings and bare branches rather than the typical flower arrangements. I talked with my other son about how this was because in our church season we are waiting for something really beautiful to come in a few weeks. Then on the way home, they both noticed that some of the trees lining the road were already starting to show early buds of pink and white and pale green. “Mom, it’s not time yet!” came the cry from the back seat.
Complaining about the disorder of the weather is commonplace in Memphis – winter days with all of us outside in shorts, rain forever or no rain in forever, early heat or heat that seems to last late into fall. Our weather, reflected this year in those tree buds, rarely perfectly matches what the seasons are supposed to call for.
This happens with the Christian church’s seasons as well. I know of quite a few households who are celebrating great joy in these Lenten days; they have already spent their 40 days (and then some) of darkness and of penitence. Similarly, I wept in the days before and after Christmas with friends who felt like peace and happiness would never return.
As life will have it, the day of Resurrection towards which we look will bring terrible news for some and pass without comment for others. Our lives do not always match up with the mood and tone of the Church’s calendar.
Still, I believe there is much wisdom to be found in moving through the Lenten days of purple cloth and of fasting whether you feel like it or not, whether the scene fits neatly into your present experiences or not. Lent reminds us that each life will know seasons of loneliness and fear, seasons of separation and of repentance. Just like each life will know times of rebirth and hope, times of growth and joy. At one level, the seasons of the church are meant to mirror the changeable nature of our days.
We often don’t know whether or not we’ll need a coat or an umbrella or whether we’ll be shedding layers in the afternoon sun. Similarly, we may be moving through these forty days of Lent carrying feelings and events that match the dirge and the desert, or we may find ourselves instead cloaked with experiences of gladness and even frivolity. Our hope is that this season we call Lent may remind us that we will all walk through times of despair and through times of joy. And we may walk alone or in lock step with our companions.
We are called through this annual remembrance to consider the journeys of others, to be kind and sensitive to them in their need. And we are reminded to see our own journeys as taking us through a variety of landscapes and conditions, all the while remembering that no matter the season and no matter the weather, God’s love and presence are constant.