February marks many things – Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, and since this year is a Leap Year, February has 29 days. But it is also this year the beginning of Lent; Ash Wednesday is February 22. So, February also marks the traditional parties before the beginning of Lent – Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnivale in Brazil, Pancake day in many places, Fastnacht Day in Pennsylvania.
The day of Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter (not including Sundays, if you’re counting the day!), is meant to remind us of Noah’s forty days in the Flood, the Hebrews’ forty years in the desert, and especially Jesus forty days in the desert at the beginning of his ministry. Lent is intended to be a special time of prayer, mediation, and spiritual preparation for Easter.
But our busy, smart-phone buzzing world filled with sound and interruption has little space for the kind of meditation that allows Lent to unfold with spiritual benefit. In 1943 during the height of World War II, poet T. S. Eliot caught this dilemma in his poem Ash Wednesday:
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
We need to carve out some Sabbath-time in our noisy lives to truly experience Lent in a real way; and a gift we can give others is the reminder that they, too, need that quiet Sabbath-time to hear “the voice.”
Though our world seems disruptive and intrusive, most of the noise that blocks out our spiritual time is voluntary. But Eliot wrote this poem during wartime, a time when he served as an air-raid warden. So it is in the midst of rationing, blackouts, and bombs that he wrote:
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
I pray that this Lent, you will be able to set aside a space of quiet time for mediation, but also for service to others.
- Pastor John