Today, Ellyn von Huben welcomes us to the Lent Club...
*The first rule of Lent Club is - you do not talk about Lent Club.
Well, we’re a ways into Lent, so let’s talk a little bit.
I love Lent. When I was still a very new Catholic, I was quite happy the year when Ash Wednesday fell on my birthday. The full participation with ashes and all felt so...right.
I just don’t always like talking about Lent-- you know, in the way women will let a discussion of Lenten practices devolve into talk of carbs, fats, calories, etc. I was quasi-anorexic during part of high school, and I’ve already discussed food as temptation enough for a lifetime. It also just doesn’t seem right to talk your penitential practices to death.
I remember reading another blogger mention how people will say what they are abstaining from and then totally negate it by adding a phrase that begins with “besides...” You know what I mean. To say, "I’m giving up mocha frappuccinos" is one thing (if I need to talk about it at all). But, to follow it with, “besides, I really need to cut back on caffeine, and leaving the frappuccinos behind will definitely benefit the behind”? The besides is always the deal breaker, which is why I try to avoid any discussions of Lenten penance that have the potential to lapse into the great “besides.”
Not to mention, the natural pitfalls of talking during any Lents in which I have given up kvetching… There are the practices in which the penances become their own pitfalls. There were the years in which I had given up all non-essential music: no music that was not Church or exercise related. But, that just turned into a can of musical worms. Do I remind my husband and ask him to turn off the car radio? Or, do I smile and cheerfully offer it up as the insufferable Smooth Jazz station drones on? But that would mean listening to the nerve jangling music while failing in my aspirations for Lenten perfection. What a double whammy!
Overthinking. Overtalking. Overly distracting from the meaning of Lent.
Yes, there is a lot I don’t talk about, although a mother always has a bit of instructional talking to do. Leading by example is best, but the mater et magistra needs to shine a certain amount of light on the example (and, make that a cheerful example). “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.’ (Matthew 6:16-18)
Or, if you can’t be a good example, be a horrible warning. There was the year when I celebrated a Lenten birthday with a horrible cold, eyes too watery for reading, while sulking in my bedroom and more or less just staring out the window because I had given up television. The dessert at dinner - presented by a family who thought I would be offended by any real cake - was some freezer-burned sherbet with a candle stuck in it. I’m not sure if my watery eyes were starting to tear, though they wanted to. Then, I went back to bed. I was a success! No TV was watched; no cake eaten. And, a totally wretched example was presented to all.
In other ways, Lent also presents the perfect opportunity for subtle evangelization. Two young gentlemen visiting my house one Ash Wednesday were kind enough to tell me that I had quite a bit of a dark substance on my forehead. (Wash face in the morning with Olay Daily facial, moisturize with a bit of Lubriderm and dust with Physician’s Formula Pearls of Perfection…that is how you set the foundation for ashes that last over 12 hours.) So, yes, I had the chance for a little discussion of Ash Wednesday. Rather than be offended by their ignorance, I chose to be touched by their chivalry.
Some years ago, I decided to introduce into my homeschooling a more ‘detailed’ study of the Stations of the Cross. I put up an eight foot length of white paper on the dining room wall. Each week of Lent I affixed two stations - 4x6 prints of those old fashioned pictures that I found in a homeschooling catalogue - so we could really have a thorough discussion about each one. That worked out well the first year. The next year I had a new mirror on the dining room wall that I had to move in order to hang the length of white paper. The third year I was too lazy to take the mirror off of the wall and ran the paper right over it. Worked for me. But then the day came when I found myself explaining to a guest that, no, covering mirrors is not an official Catholic Lenten practice - just my attempt to be pious, educational and lazy all in one.
Then, there were the ideas that just didn’t work out. Someone in a homeschool chat group suggested making a crown of thorns out of a grapevine wreath with toothpicks inserted for thorns. When a child felt that he had performed a particular act of prayer, fasting or almsgiving, he could remove a thorn as symbolic of removing a bit of Jesus’ suffering and taking it on himself. I felt it was worth a try; worth making myself woozy on MagicMarker fumes while I colored the flat toothpicks brown to match the wreath. Because I have a large family, I made a lot of ‘thorns.’ Placed in a prominent place in the living room, the crown of thorns worked for about 36 hours. Then, there were the clowns - I know who you are - who decided to help by removing all the thorns at one time. Exhausted by constantly reinserting thorns and railing at the family in general, I decided this was no longer a pious exercise for anyone. I cut my losses and packed the crown away.
And so it goes. Each year the same; each year a little different.
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. (Joel 2:12-13)
*Welcome to Lent Club. The first rule of Lent Club is: you do not talk about Lent Club. The second rule of Lent Club is: you DO NOT complain about Lent Club! Third rule of Lent Club: if someone yells "stop!", goes limp, or taps out, Lent is not over. But Sunday is not impossibly far off. And Easter will come in due time.
Ellyn von Huben is a regular contributor to the Word on Fire Blog. She also moderates her own blog, Oblique House.