There was more snow last night, followed this morning by fleeting, sometimes sleeting rain. Lent is well underway. We chose as a focus for this season the lines from the Isaiah reading: “you will become like a watered garden” (Isaiah 58:11). Instead of renewing our baptisms in a traditional manner, at the beginning of each service on Sunday, we listen to the water being poured into the font. I’m not sure how the congregation is receiving this kind of prayer, but it creates some time of silence, except for the sound of water, at the beginning of worship, and that, one hopes, would be centering for people. Our Lent, here on Cape Ann, has its own spiritual penances, this year, created by our erratic and sometimes threatening weather. All of us have decreased our travel and daily activities in and around the storms. And afterwards, we grapple with some dismay at snow removal. The winter has been too long for most of us, and some of us are starting to feel grumpy from the lack of sun. I’ve always felt Luther was right when he suggests we don’t need to invent penances for ourselves–life will bring us to a place of repentance, to a place of return, and a time of seeking God. That seeking may come from a sense of fear or anxiety, or it may come from a deep gratitude. It might arise from inchoate longing for something to be resolved in the soul, or a more persistent focused longing for union with God.
This winter, the weather has forced me, at least, to stay very present to what’s happening. It’s a kind of mindfulness practice. You have to pay close attention when you are driving, when you are walking, and when it’s very very cold, how long you are outside, and whether your face is protected, how many layers of clothes will do the trick, how many socks. On the coldest days I took to wearing a pair of gloves under a pair of mittens. In this season, you also have to make sure you have appropriate means to meet the next snowstorm, or even flooding, if the snow melts too quickly. Last week, we checked all the sump pumps at church to make sure they worked, and bought new hoses for them. Parish ministry is always full of richness, from plumbing adventures to singing hymns, from cleaning kitchens to praying at bedsides. All this is simply to say that paying attention, close attention, to the immediate demands of the day is a kind of spiritual practice–or at least it can be experienced that way. This isn’t new news, I know, but it’s certainly practical wisdom for this year’s Lent. The smallest things, the smallest events become more visible, more evocative. A few days ago, the house warmed up, and a small odd looking bug emerged from somewhere in the woodwork. He seemed stunned at first, and then he started crawling slowly across the page of the book I was reading. Normally, I would have taken him or her outside, but there was no place for bugs in extreme cold. I put him in one of the houseplants inside, in the sun, and felt a kind of comradely kinship. We aren’t a watered garden yet, but we’re getting there. In our neighborhood and congregation, everyone is praying for spring, I think, Spring for the earth, Spring for the soul.