It’s late to be writing a post about Lent, but I’m of the modest opinion that the practices you take on in Lent aren’t just seasonal. They’re about starting lifelong practices and awareness of our proximity (or not) to the Holy One. Every year, I take stock of where I’ve been and what I need to reshape my own spiritual life. This year, as I sat down with the Ash Wednesday scriptures in front of me, I realized two things:
- I was dry. Like brittle, late-fall leaf dry. Dry and crusty like the toast you made for your child, but it got *too* toasted, and started crumbling as you dutifully cut off the crust, and even though you turned it over to try to hide the burned side, aforementioned child was horrified and threw offending toast across room where it was crunched by the dog. That kind of dry.
- I was dry enough that a spiritual practice seemed impossible to realistically take on. This awareness happened when I read the Ash Wednesday scriptures of Jesus being driven alone into the wilderness and waited on my angels for forty days, and thought to myself, “LUCKY.”
Then, a clergy colleague referenced her parish’s practice for their Lenten altar (yes, even in pandemic mode!)—they started with empty pots on the altar on Ash Wednesday, symbolizing the desert. And each succeeding week, they would add more greens, until finally, by Easter, the altar was lush and green. As I read that, I recognized how parched I was and how good lush greenery sounded. Watered greenery.
I listened for a hot moment to God, and heard, ‘Get yourself some water.’
No one would mistake me for a self-sacrificing parent. But the last year has been hard, and the weight, fear, multitasking, and endless provision of hope, cheer and so. many. crafts. to fill up days without friends and family had taken a toll. I see it in the faces of parents and parishioners—there is no time or space for desolation when parenting young children. Authenticity yes, but not the hole I wanted to crawl into.
And so, on Ash Wednesday, I did something I swore I would never do as a Lenten practice. I spent 40 days moisturizing.
Yes. I know. Hear me out.
When a spirit or body is producing too much, it must be refilled, nourished, in order to sustain. I remember my mother always telling me to eat and drink on a regular basis, because it was only when you felt hungry that you were past the point when your body actually needed the food (moms and their wisdom, amiright?).
So, I went to the well. But for me, it was limited and practical. I drank a glass of water every day before I mainlined coffee. I washed and moisturized my face, morning and night. I slathered lotion on my dry New England-wintered skin.
I’m no spa expert, but rehydrating takes a while. A week went by and I didn’t notice any outward or inward difference. This spiritual practice was not an immediately satisfying one, like a mani-pedi spiritual practice might be. But as we edged towards Lent 3, I not only craved the water I was drinking, I craved other nourishing practices. I started to have bandwidth to read books which reminded me of God’s love. I started, slowly, returning all those phone calls. I started putting on a face mask on a weekend night, and instead of scrolling on my phone, I would sit there. Just sit, for the requisite 10 minutes—and be.
Are these typical adulting jobs? Why yes, yes they are. But the grace of this particular time allowed me to experience them as quiet, small, persistent signs of love for a weary incarnate body and soul, instead of yet one more thing to do, one more thing to produce, good-cheer included (pro tip: it’s really hard to smile while wearing a face mask).
I write this as the season of Lent comes to a close, but this practice of mine has not. The year of impossible choices has taken its toll. New life is not yet rooted, but I can prepare the soil in anticipation that something new can grow and maybe even flourish. But that growth needs watering, tending, and care. It needs a good old slathering of love, an antioxidant-rich layer of Living Water, and perhaps a bottle or two of Cerave.
Author’s note: this article is written in apology to the author’s friends, L and M, who once suggested that their Lenten practice be moisturizing, and the author, in her best self-righteous voice, pooh-poohed that idea as a glorified New Year’s resolution only. Mea culpa.