Tag Archives: Lent

I map the topography of love.

Yarrow blooming in front garden.

March is the month that my husband fell asleep in the Lord, two years ago now. My experience of bereavement is all over the map, following the topography of the seasons and the holidays and whatever physical ailments fall on me.

Most of the time I am happily swamped by a myriad of plans and activities, and tasks I’m behind on. But sometimes the absence of my husband when I lie down and when I rise up, when I go from room to room or when I come home from a walk, is like a huge and strange presence.

March always features Lent, which is a mercy, because that is an opportunity to focus on prayer, which keeps me in the present, where my husband and I are both living in the Kingdom of God. I can put our marriage in historical perspective and in the context of eternity.

This year once again I cooked for 100 people, with the help of several dear friends, an agape meal after last Sunday’s Divine Liturgy, as a memorial for my husband. I made the same menu as last year. We had so much fun cooking on Saturday that I completely forgot to take pictures.

But the night before, I had been soaking 20# of Great Northern beans to make the Greek Beans , and I took pictures of them soaked and being dried off on a tablecloth. They have to be dried off a bit so you can sauté them in olive oil before stewing them. Neither of the photos shows the whole 20#.

I also borrowed some pictures from last year that are pretty much identical to the scene from last week.

garlic and bay leaves
Preparing tarragon for cabbage salad.

Partly because of Lent, March is always very busy. Not all Orthodox churches are able to celebrate a full calendar of services, partly because many parishes have only one priest, and he might also have another job. But God has arranged for me to be where I can be nourished and helped a great deal by praying in church and receiving Communion several times a week during Lent. We have so many services that no one can attend all of them.

Yellow freesias starting to bloom in the distance.

 

March is when the garden takes off. If I didn’t have my garden, what would my life be like? Would I keep a tidier house? Pray more? Probably neither. I am always happy in the garden – and it’s a good place to pray, without a doubt. Better to have a garden that is somewhat neglected than to have no garden.

I started thinning the lamb’s ears with the help of a kneeling bench
that my cousin Renée gave me.

I used to not like Euphorbia (above),
but now that it is falling over my own garden wall I find I am quite fond of it.

lovely lithodora

The native currant bushes (ribes) aren’t very bushy,
but they are three times as tall as last year.

Bay tree (Laurus nobilis) in a pot.

The first week of Lent I started out grumpy. But Lent is a good cure for that. I have since been given wonderful gifts of thankfulness. God has let me see how all through my life He has abundantly provided for me, and He continues to do this every day. When I think of the love that has been given me in my childhood, my marriage, my children and my friends – and now the Holy Orthodox Church that is “the fullness of Him that fills all in all,” my cup runs over.

No doubt I will lapse into grumbling and self-pity before long, and have to repent again (That’s what life is for!) but the view of my widow’s world from this mountain on which I stand at the moment is quite beautiful, and it’s a Happy Spring.

I began this post yesterday, and then went out to pull weeds and deadhead flowers. I was kneeling in the mulch by the yarrow when the florist delivery girl walked up with an elegant vase for “Gretchen.” Lilies, roses, carnations, blue flowers, sweet smells… Before I could get it into the house I started weeping, not being able to guess who would do this – it could be anyone, in God’s world that is full of miracles, and seemingly brimming with people who care about me. But it was my children and their spouses, with an early remembrance of their parents’ wedding anniversary:

“Mama, these are sent in celebration of you and Papa, and with love for you,
from your children.”  See what I mean about that landscape?

What to read during Lent? Maybe Austen.

screwtape letters book old Some people who watch a lot of television are exhorted to turn off the tube and read something – anything – during Lent. I suppose the assumption is that if they are serious enough about their repentance to change their use of leisure time that drastically, they won’t waste the effort by taking up unedifying reading habits.

Our parish bookstore is full of titles obviously appropriate for the season, like the classic Great Lent by Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann. And I know many people who read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, because the senior devil’s instructions on how to keep a man in chains are so revealing of all the subtle sins we like to ignore or make excuses for. screwtapes-desktop1 FOFI didn’t get around to adding a Lent-specific book to my stacks this year, and I felt a little embarrassed about taking up a Jane Austen novel last week. If I had been more familiar with her books I might have known that there is plenty of material there for God to work with. But I blush to say that I hadn’t read one Austen book since high school.

I don’t remember what it was the particular bloggers said, but more than one book review that came my way in the last few months made me think I would like Mansfield Park. Soldier and Joy gave it to me for my birthday, and here I am.

mansfield park

The introduction by Amanda Claybaugh quickly piqued my historical/philosophical interest, as she explained the context of the story (The French Revolution) and Austen’s metaphorical connections with lines like this:

“The theater thus functions in this novel as the art form of unbridled ambitions and abrogated duties, as the art form of revolution.”

Right there, lines from our lenten prayer of St. Ephrem come to mind, the ones referring to Lust of Power and Sloth. I couldn’t wait to get into the story itself, where I was immediately introduced to sinners as common as myself.

Mrs. Norris: “As far as walking, talking, and contriving reached, she was thoroughly benevolent, and nobody knew better how to dictate liberality to others, but her love of money was equal to her love of directing, and she knew quite as well how to save her own as to spend that of her friends.”

Have you known anyone like Mrs. Norris? I have. Not being a delegating kind of person, I don’t fall into that particular type of sin. Mine are perhaps more along the lines of the Miss Bertrams, whose “vanity was in such good order that they seemed to be quite free from it, and gave themselves no airs….”

It’s these sins of vanity and pride that we who look respectable on the outside seem most prone to — and that are often invisible to ourselves. Self-centeredness is my default setting, after all, and feels perfectly natural, so why should I even think of changing the setting for a minute, much less manage to leave it at a strange place on the dial?

The same could be said of Mrs. Norris, of whom the narrator tells us: “…perhaps she might so little know herself, as to walk home…in the happy belief of being the most liberal-minded sister and aunt in the world.”

It’s good to read something during Lent that warns me not to think highly of myself, not to think I am “spiritual.” Something that facilitates my efforts to join those happy/blessed ones who in the Gospel Beatitudes are called Poor in Spirit. It’s toward that end that we pray along with St. Ephrem the Syrian: “Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother….”

How can I see my own errors, when the window of my soul is all dirty with various sins? Perhaps if I repent of what I do know, I will find the window a little less dirty, so that I can see more to repent of. I’m hoping that as I progress through Mansfield Park I will encounter more stunning examples of smudged windowpanes that with God’s grace I’ll recognize as similar to my own, and get on with the scrubbing.

Pressing on to the wasteland.

Another good quote for Lent, thanks to s-p at Pithless Thoughts (posted a while back), from a Malcolm Muggeridge essay on life at the end of the last century. It seems to me still applicable in the 21st, as he describes how direly we need the Savior:

As the astronauts soar into the vast eternities of space, on earth the garbage piles higher, as the groves of academe extend their domain, their alumni’s arms reach lower, as the phallic cult spreads, so does impotence. In great wealth, great poverty; in health, sickness, in numbers, deception. Gorging, left hungry; sedated, left restless; telling all, hiding all; in flesh united, forever separate. So we press on through the valley of abundance that leads to the wasteland of satiety, passing through the gardens of fantasy; seeking happiness ever more ardently, and finding despair ever more surely.

the satisfaction of pride

This poem would have been perfect for the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, but I don’t want to wait another year to post it. Anyway, something on pride is very fitting for Lent.

THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS

Forget about the other six, says Pride.
They’re only using you.
Admittedly, Lust is a looker,
but you can do better.

And why do they keep bringing us
to this cheesy dive?
The food’s so bad that even Gluttony
can’t finish his meal.

Notice how Avarice
keeps refilling his glass
whenever he thinks we’re not looking,
while Envy eyes your plate.

Hell, we’re not even done, and Anger
is already arguing about the bill.
I’m the only one who
ever leaves a decent tip.

Let them all go, the losers!
It’s a relief to see Sloth’s
fat ass go out the door.
But stick around. I have a story

that not everyone appreciates—
about the special satisfaction
of staying on board as the last
grubby lifeboat pushes away.

— Dana Gioia

Published in First Things Aug/Sept 2010