It is still very, very cold in New England.
I know this is not the case for many other parts of the country. I lived in North Carolina for some time, and I remember the beauty of the dogwoods and azaleas when they would bloom at this time of year. I remember the warm spring days leading up to Easter.
But here in Rhode Island we are still dipping below freezing — especially at night and sometimes during the day. I put away my sleds for the season but kept the shovels within reach just to be on the safe side.
The trees are still brown and brittle here, but even in this dull, cold landscape, it is around this week that we start to see the very first signs of spring. Our heartiest daffodils and crocuses begin their journey from underground up towards the sun. Each year I delight in their appearance and fear for their health when the frost inevitably visits even after they pop up out of the ground. Each year I am struck by how desperate I am for spring: for warmth, for sun, for growth.
This year, in particular, I am struck by how my experience of Lent aligns with these hearty flowers daring to peek out of the ground. I feel like this tiny green sprout, coming out of a long, cold hibernation, and longing for light.
There have been plenty of seasons in my life when I used Lent as an opportunity for deep self-reflection, intense prayer, or self-denial in an effort to bring about spiritual growth. And in various seasons, those practices have been important for me — drawing me closer to God in new ways, challenging me in ways that force me to dig deep and embrace change.
But this year I felt no pull to that sort of Lenten practice. Instead, in our first two Sundays of Lent, I found myself reading and re-reading our passages of scripture that compared experiencing God’s love to being drawn under wing: by the angels in Psalm 91 and like a hen gathers its brood as Jesus tells us in Luke. This year I wanted to imagine basking in God’s warmth, comforted the way I hope my children feel comforted when they crawl into my lap when something has made them sad.
We have had a long, cold, dark season — and I’m not talking about the weather. And while the chill of the world around us doesn’t seem to be fully dissipating yet, as we move toward Easter Sunday we know that we have a constant source of light and warmth. God’s love does not diminish, it does not change, it does not wither. Our ability to see that love and reach for that light sometimes falters, but God is unchanging.
And so my Lenten practice this year isn’t to deny myself or take part in penitence or fasting, as our Book of Common Prayer suggests. Instead of Lenten discipline is to courageously burst from the cold ground, reaching out for God’s light and warmth, believing that it will be there to comfort me no matter what.
These little flowers will persevere, and soon the rest of the trees will open and bloom. Spring will arrive eventually in New England, shortly after we proclaim the Resurrection on April 17th.
But I don’t want to wait until then; I’m reaching for the Light right now.