Friday, February 22, 2013

Unexpected moments in Lent

Fire and Ice
     I find snow and ice to make passionate landscapes. The brisk air has a cold searing force that burns the lungs and skin like fire. The white and ice strip the landscape of color, down to its bare essentials. Icicles sculpt surreal sculptures in spikes and spirals. Water drains on granite rock behind melting ice sheets, creating shadowy forms like skittering bugs. Though some would say the landscape stark, especially given the flowering cherry trees in the Charleston landscape right now, I would have to disagree. Shivering at the brink of Dry Falls, near Highlands, N.C. recently, I watched a rainbow pop out of the mists, snow falling incongruously through bright beams of sun. My soul stirred with a passion to rival that of spring. 


     I'm stripping wallpaper this week in our bathroom.  I didn't plan for it to become a Lenten discipline.  I thought I would slap on some stripping gel, pull off the old sheets of wallpaper, and get on with the painting.  Ah hah!  Like most home improvement projects, it's just not that simple.  
     Some of the sheets come off smoothly and mostly intact. Others, for some reason, cling stubbornly to the wall, and pull off in pieces, leaving small bits of white backing paper firmly glued to the wall.  Then it's a slow, meticulous process of carefully scraping and peeling all the little bits off the wall, without gouging or chipping the drywall.  I've tried all sorts of remedies recommended by friends and by Google, fabric softener,  a vinegar solution, hot water.  It all comes down the slow process of scraping and peeling each wall, inch by inch, foot by foot.
     I want to rush the process and hurry on to the painting, the part I enjoy.  It's frustrating to go so slowly, moving inches at a time, struggling with every leftover scrap on the wall.  It's frustrating, but necessary, to end up with a smooth, clean wall ready for a fresh coat of paint.
      Sounds like a Lenten discipline after all. 

     So far, I am failing at my Lenten disciplines. I suppose this too is useful in reminding me that I am dust-on-my-way-back-to-dust very much in need of a Redeemer, but most days I would honestly rather be successful. Many of us at Providence are reading through Chris Seay's book A Place at the Table during this season. The daily readings (on which I have already fallen behind) are meant to draw us toward solidarity with our poor and hungry sisters and brothers around the world.
     Like many Americans in my socio-economic class, I have never known what it is to be truly hungry, to wonder where my next meal is coming from, or to be truly grateful for the gift of physical nourishment. So I decided that during Lent I would eat more mindfully - prepare simple meals, refrain from overindulgence, use locally grown produce, pray before every meal, put only healthy food into my body, save money on groceries that I could then donate to hunger relief for others. It sounded doable on Ash Wednesday. And yet, here I am only a week later, finding myself once again too rushed and too hungry and so my meal becomes whatever is most readily available in the pantry. 
     This morning I grabbed the loaf of cinnamon raisin bread, disappointed in myself. I prayed as I began eating my breakfast, and made my best attempt at mindfulness. I read the ingredients and thought about all the lives affected by the production of this meal. Where was the wheat grown, and what is life like for the farmers there? Do they get paid a fair wage or are they taken advantage of? What about the people who turn the wheat into flour? And those who work the vineyard where these raisins were once ripening grapes? Where does cinnamon come from anyway, and who harvests it? What of the cows who produced the milk I bought at Publix? Are they treated humanely, or more like machines devoid of feeling? 
     I found myself praying blessings upon the farmers and the mill workers and the bread distributors, and yes, even the cows! I gave thanks for the sunlight and rain and fertile soil and miracles of science and nature by which God makes the whole process possible. It may not be exactly the Lenten discipline I had envisioned, but this turned out to be a very mindful meal in its own way.


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