On Ash Wednesday, I attended a day of reflection at Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, PA. The presenter spoke about the joyful season of Lent, even quoting liturgical prayers which refer to it. Surprised, I googled “lent joy” when I got home and found a lot to back this up. Who knew?
I did not know. I’ve always felt a little out of sync with the Church when it comes to Lent anyway. Lent means Spring, right? Generally, the season of Lent ranges through February to April. I grew up in south Louisiana, which is radiant with azaleas and wysteria during Lent. Purple, magenta, pink, red, white, huge splashy flowers covering untrimmed free-ranging bushes the size of cars. Nothing like the tame little manicured bushes landscapers use as trim around sidewalks in the north, azalea bushes in the south are more like cumulus clouds.
I defy you to walk a neighborhood in the Deep South when the azaleas are in full swing and feel sad or even penitential. I associate Lent with that special magenta-purple color of azaleas, not with ashes. I can’t help it. Inside all the churches, everything is draped now in purple, and to me it evokes glorious, beautiful flowers. It’s that time of year!
The presenter asked us to reflect on what Jesus did right before going into the desert to fast for forty days. He was baptized and heard the voice of the Father saying, “This is my beloved Son.” Of course we move right from that scene into the temptations. But put that aside for a moment and imagine instead going into the desert to absorb the sound of the Father’s voice saying, “You are my beloved.”
Without knowing in the core of my being that I am beloved of God, penitence and fasting become bargains I make to buy God’s love. But if my starting point is the sound of the Father’s voice in my ears, lenten practices are a response freely given in love, an expression of my desire to grow deeper in that love. It’s Christianity 101: How do we get into heaven? We don’t buy a ticket with our good works, we’re welcomed home because of love.
I haven’t been home during the azalea season in many years. Here in Philadelphia, the trees are bare and there are no flowers. But I see the purple in our chapel, and I know it’s glorious back home right now. And I rejoice. And it’s Lent, so rejoicing is really okay!