Take a snow day this Lent, part one

The analogy of Lent as a desert has never worked for me. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and except for a year spent in Chicago, I’ve lived here my whole life. When Lent arrives in Wisconsin, winter is only half over. Last year, Ash Wednesday in Milwaukee was ushered in with a blizzard that closed every school and most businesses in the metro area. To me that snowstorm is a fitting beginning to what Lent should be about every year. 
Lent, when done right, should begin by shutting everything down. Last year’s blizzard turned what would have been a typically complicated day—school, practices, errands—into a very simple one. All six of us home together, shoveling and eating vegetable soup. It can be hard to see what in our lives is essential if we never take time to step away. Lent provides the opportunity to take a spiritual snow day. It is a time of “closing” some of the non-essentials in our lives. 
The interminable snow and ice of Wisconsin’s February can be a spiritual analogy for Lent just as surely as the more traditional dryness and sand. When I struggle to see God’s presence in my life, it is usually because I’m in the middle of a situation that seems impossible. If I turn one way, there’s cold wind whipping on my face; the other way I’m hit with freezing rain. 

If the desert analogy of Lent is about being alone, a winter analogy of Lent has to involve people. Winter makes you want to huddle. While we know well the story of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert by himself, I doubt that if he lived in a different climate, he would have gone into the cold, snowy forest alone for the same amount of time. Winter alone can be dangerous. Lent alone can be dangerous, too. 

Perhaps in no church season is the community as important as it is during Lent. In looking into ourselves and seeing our own brokenness, we need to be around people who are doing the same. Jesus himself recognized that he shouldn’t be alone in his most difficult hour—and desperately asked his disciples not to leave him by falling asleep. 

The icy winds of Lent require us to find people to huddle with. The prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of Lent underline the importance of this community huddle. We pray and fast with our community, and then we give alms to those who need our help. Though Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, we turn out at church in great numbers. We know we belong together on this day. We know we cannot be alone in the cold.   …next week, part two: What should be “closed” for Lent?

By Annemarie Scobey, from the archives of At Home with Our Faith newsletter