We rung in the beginning of Lent quietly: on Zosia's bed reading bedtime stories. Ben and I both home sick, the girls sleepy. "Ben, why don't we give each other ashes?" I suggested as an afterthought. A few minutes later, Ben was smearing ashes from our fireplace on two moist, newly bathed foreheads. The contrast between our reality-- two fresh faced and beautiful little toddlers-- and the words he said couldn't have been more striking: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return." Dust? But here is life in its fullness.
The coziness of our sweet home verses the reality of death; the innocence of our little girls verses the existence of evil. Ugly, startling contrast. But yet, isn't that what Lent is all about? Because here we are in the desert for forty days when come Easter Sunday we will be a Resurrected people. Could there be a more striking contrast than that?
Celebrating Lent in our little family has been a journey: how do you talk about something so serious, so grim, so real with babies? Advent, the birth of a baby, yes. Lent, the murder of God himself, not so much. But this year we are taking little steps towards living this duality, this contrast that is so central to the Christian life. Because I really do think that even small children can begin to get it.
Fresh soil and a jar of grass seeds: one seed for each time we put others above ourselves over the course of the day. Journals to start counting our blessings, our "favorites," as I had to explain to the little ones. And, this being our home and all, of course some Lenten pretzels, which Lily seemed to take to as much as her papa.
We were lucky to be given some wonderful resources: some sweet activity packets with daily readings and stickers (!) for children and a Lenten Devotion book for adults with Bible verses and selections from the writings of our very favorite spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen. So this year we will be tentatively, hesitantly, but trustingly journeying towards that great Alleluia together.
"Dear Jesus, I look at you, and you open my eyes to the way in which your passion, death and resurrection are happening among us every day. But within me there is a deep fear of looking at my own world. You say to me: 'Do not be afraid to look, to touch, to heal, to comfort and to console.' I listen to your voice, and, as I enter more deeply into the painful, but also hope-filled, lives of my fellow human beings, I know that I enter more deeply into your heart." -Henri Nouwen