Reflections on Lent

by Sharon Smith

 

When I was a teenager, my friends and I would talk about what we were giving up for Lent. Many of our ideas involved letting go of favorite foods or activities. We would give up chocolate, ice cream, or pizza. Sometimes we would resolve to break bad habits like arguing with our parents or siblings.   Some of our ideas were pretty abstract; giving up selfishness, pride or being lazy.

Decades later, those ideas seem to reflect our innocence in a very different era both in our personal lives and society as a whole. However, it seems some of those patterns persist. In February, Christianity Today published a list of What to Give up for Lent 2017. Among Americans who still observe Lent, 57% give up a favorite food or beverage (alcohol and chocolate top the list); 35% give up a bad habit, 23% give up a favorite activity. You can see more about what people give up these days at https://www.openbible.infor/labs/lent-tracker/2017

I have definitely aged out of my teenage approach to Lent! In 2017 I am looking for inspiration and action; things that lift my spirit and give me hope in these turbulent times. Poetry is a way of opening my heart and mind to other perspectives on divine presence. Here are two poems I’ve been thinking about during Lent.

Prayer for Overcoming Indifference

For the sin of silence,
For the sin of indifference,
For the secret complicity of the neutral,
For the closing of borders,
For the washing of hands,
For the crime of indifference,
For the sin of silence,
For the closing of borders.
For all that was done,
For all that was not done,
Let there be no forgetfulness before the Throne of Glory;
Let there be remembrance within the human heart;
And let there at last be forgiveness
When your children, O God,
Are free and at peace.

From Chaim Stern, editor, Gates of Repentance (Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1978)

Poem #1 is a call to action; fight indifference, oppose social injustice and work for peace.

Poem #2 is Gethsemane by Mary Oliver. One reviewer called it “possibly one of the finest Christian poems of our time.” (Jay Parini, The Guardian, October 6, 2007)

The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.

Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.

The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.

Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe the wind wound itself into a silver tree,

and didn’t move, maybe
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.

Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.

 

Last Night As I Was Sleeping by Antonio Machado

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

 

Translated from Spanish by Robert Bly