For the letter “L”, Lent is a natural choice of subject, considering the season we Orthodox are in. This year Pascha or “Greek Easter” is five weeks after Western Easter, so we are still in preparation. Everything that we experience or do is placed in the context of our efforts to draw close to Christ and to be ready for the glorious celebration of His Resurrection. If I don’t see that connection on my own, someone around me is sure to say, upon hearing that I’m sick, or my car broke down, or about any number of news items, failings or challenges, “Ah, well, it’s Lent!”
Sloughing off the unnecessary, becoming more like Mary than Martha, letting go, focusing on the eternal things and soaking up the encouragement of our mother the Church through the heart-sustaining services of this period of the calendar — these are some of the things we try to work on.
When on April Fool’s Day my computer’s hard drive failed, I lost several months’ worth of data and many hours of work that I have to do over, including hundreds of photos and I don’t know what else, because somehow my backup program had also failed since December. My Computer Guy was more distressed than I was; I realized deep down that this loss was of nothing essential to my life. I said something like that to him, mentioning Lent, and he remarked lightly that my attitude inspired him to consider what sort of sacrifices he himself ought to be making. “Oh, no,” I wanted to say, “It’s not about making sacrifices!” But exactly what it is about, I wasn’t prepared to expound. I do know that I did not choose to give up a big chunk of visual and literary records.
What Lent is about can be summed up in this prayer that we pray hundreds of times throughout the weeks and the services. It doesn’t say anything about sacrifice or even about food.
The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian
O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness,
lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility,
patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother;
for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.
And though to be truthful, there is mention of sacrifice when we come together, it’s in the moving hymn we sing on our knees at one of the Lenten services:
Let my prayer arise in Thy sight as incense,
And the lifting up of my hands
As an evening sacrifice.
I happen to be reading a book that seems very Lenten in its mood and themes. This novel by Eugene Vodolazkin, Laurus, is filling my mind so much the last few weeks, I originally planned to dedicate the whole of “L” to it, even though I’m still in the middle of the book. It’s about the Middle Ages, a holy fool, and kairos. The main character demonstrates the kind of self-emptying that results in making space for God.
His motivation for asceticism is love for someone for whom he wants to pray, and he does not want to be distracted by being too comfortable. Eventually he comes to feel out of touch with his body, almost insensible to its condition, and free. You might think that such a person would also be oblivious to the natural world around him, but Arseny seems to be more intimate with the creation and appreciative of its beauty than the average person. Perhaps the Holy Spirit allows him to see and interact with things more directly and clearly than we who only have our natural senses.
Speaking of Nature, I am trying to cooperate with her and grow some vegetables. On Friday I set out some little lettuces and also some kale and leeks. The lettuce is of two varieties of Romaine: Forellenschluss (which I probably bought for its name that is so fun to say) is the speckled kind on the left in the photo; it’s an heirloom variety from Austria. The plain green is a heat-resistant lettuce from Israel and is named Jericho.
That Lenten prayer is useful all through the day, and everywhere we go. I feel the spirit of love in regard to my garden, but I need the spirit of patience. I pray the Lord takes from me the lust of power, but I don’t expect it will happen as quickly as I lost all those digital photos.
Did you know that “the English word Lent is a shortened form of the Old English word len(c)ten, meaning ‘spring season'”? Whatever hemisphere we live in, we can with God’s help tend our hearts, and make this season the springtime of our soul.