One of my favorite childhood memories was going to church with my mother on Saturday morning. Mom loved gardening and so she relished the task of taking care of the flower arrangements that decorated the sanctuary. Her duties were suspended, however, during the six weeks of Lent when the church was stripped to its barest elements.
With Ash Wednesday just around the corner, my recollections of those Saturdays afford insights into the meaning and practices of Lent. There was something mystical about being in the church when no one else was around. While I reveled in the chance to explore the surroundings, I was also calmed by the peacefulness of its sacred space. It was a first glimpse into the grace of silence and solitude, two of the most vital aspects of entering into contemplative prayer.
Because I knew that Mom was responsible for the flowers around the altar, I was also aware of their absence during Lent. The season’s stark surroundings served as a magnificent contrast to the explosion of color and life that surrounded us on Easter morning. Mom’s creative hand was once again at work as she arranged lilies and other spring bouquets to brighten our worship and herald the hope of new life. Fasting from such sights for six week made their re-emergence and Lent’s “springtime” meanings all the more relevant.
My mother’s service to the community was a living example of what it means to practice our faith not only with words, but also with deeds. She and my father gave generously to helping those in need through their regular offerings to the parish as well as to organizations that fed, clothed, and brought comfort to the needy. They reminded us often of our own good fortune and the need to consider those who were less so. Almsgiving was less of an obligation than it was a sign of our grace-filled home.
As we move into Lent, I plan to reflect more fully in this blog on each of the three traditional Lenten practices – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. My earliest understandings of them emerged in an empty church, became manifest in my mother’s work, and were brought to life by the flow of the liturgical year. Over time, these practices have grown more meaningful as I put them into use. Each is a fountain of grace – a way to move more deeply into the hope and promise of the Paschal Mystery. I hope you will join in the conversation by adding your own memories and comments. May all of us find abundant Lenten grace in the weeks ahead.
Look ahead to Lent by planning aprayer service to use with your class or family.
Plan to pay a visit to a retreat center or other sacred space during Lent. Use the time to talk to your children or class about how to celebrate this holy season.