At Christmastime, I feel a sense of mixed anticipation when we light that first advent candle the Sunday after Thanksgiving. As the flame ignites I feel the minor paradox of wishing it weren't so and wishing it would be tomorrow. In that moment, all the work is ahead of me. I had to unpack the advent wreath, find suitable candles and a book of matches. Nothing else was required in order to begin.
At Eastertime, I have wished and wished for a way to lead my family to engage in the season. My evangelical roots never mentioned Lent, only Easter. It was about resurrection, yes, but also new clothes and deviled eggs and ham. And it was just one day. Later in my life, Good Friday practices began to creep in. Even so, Easter still seemed to be something we bumped into as we went around a corner.
I think I've been sending up my own shoots from those roots for several years now. I've observed Lent, but in my own way, taking up instead of giving up. I've not felt compelled to move toward the traditional ideas of sacrifice, thinking perhaps they were overused or even irrelevant. And just what vices did I have that I needed to break free from? I don't drink coffee, watch t.v., eat daily doses of sugar. It seemed that giving up wasn't what Lent wanted from this evangelical girl. And that seemed to make perfect sense.
This year we are going to lean in a little more. As a family, we are going to do some giving up. My children are intrigued. My husband seems completely agreed. I am expectant... of what I have no idea. But we are moving toward resurrection together.
We are going to give up meat for 40 days. We are not extreme carnivores. Meat is not a stumbling block for us. It is something of daily life. Mundane. Quotidian. There is no sense of luxury in meat. I don't feel any degree of attachment to it. Or will I find that I do?
I've spent the last several days looking up ideas, recipes, to help us move through this time with a sense of newness. When giving up something we often go seeking something else to fill its space. I have mapped out menus, watched cooking videos, asked friends for ideas. I have shopped not once, but twice assuring my youngest that, yes, we would at some point buy salami once again. We have slowly eaten away the vestiges of meat products as if we were moving or leaving the country for a month and knew everything would spoil if we didn't consume it now.
And today as I moved the frozen sausage to the back of the freezer, safe to eat on those Bridegroom Sundays, and stacked the edamame and pre-cooked broccoli and cheese calzones in front of it, I reflected upon my work of preparation. It reminded me a little of what the Jewish households do prior to Sabbath. I sensed a bit of the sacred as I stacked cilantro, cucumbers and carrots whose day will come tomorrow. There has been clear intention in my work. I will do without this one thing. I want to miss it a little, but I don't want my desire to have it back consume me. I want to experience a new taste, but of God more than hummus made twenty ways.
This is not about food. It's about tension. It's about paradox. Paradox is that place where two profound truths can be true at once. The same man who was savior was also decimated. The God who loves generously exhibits bone-chilling justice. We learn through effectiveness as well as failure. We each need both community and isolation. The paradox of new life is suffering. Both are true. But how much do I know even one of them well?
Tomorrow I'll know what tomorrow will hold. Not today. But I've loved the preparation. Alongside my giving up, I'm taking up daily prayers, repeating them every ten days. Vowing to live with whatever discomfort arises. The loving and the suffering go hand in hand. And when celebrating Easter I will rejoice that all the work has, indeed, been done.
There is a name for the endurance we must practice until a larger love arrives: it is called suffering. We will not be able to teach in the power of paradox until we are willing to suffer the tension of opposites, until we understand that such suffering is neither to be avoided nor merely to be survived but must be actively embraced for the way it expands our own hearts. Parker J. Palmer - The Courage To Teach