I am learning patience in a completely new way and I think I like it. I was raised in a place where we took the sun for granted. It was just always there. You could look up and always see it. The seasons barely manifested themselves. We would get a slight turning of the leaves when fall would approach, and then we’d get rain. But I remember many a Christmas wearing shorts because it was so hot. I also recall Halloweens when we did not want to wear a costume because we’d sweat to death. And I also recall many, many hot, sweltering days during the summertime when even the air conditioning could not keep up with the heat. I also remember cold mornings with fog during the summertime. I remember walking to the rec center with my brother and we’d have on shorts but would also be wearing sweaters because it was foggy and cold. But by the time we walked home again, it would be so hot that the pavement felt hot beneath our shoes. And the sun was always with us. Always. Even during the shorter days of winter we had sunny and hot days. As I have moved north, I have come to experience the sun in such different ways. I just never realized how different the days could be, or how different seasons can be. And I must say, people who live in the more “warm, always sunny” climates are missing out on some beautiful days.
When we lived in the greater Seattle area, I experienced the oddest thing. I experienced blowing leaves and rain that were both coming down so hard, the wiper blades got stuck. I had to get out of my car in the wind, rain, and blowing leaves to unclog the blades so I could see where I was going. It was truly a fall experience. The leaves were a cornucopia of golds and reds, yellows and oranges. It was glorious! And shorter days really became shorter days. It would be pitch black at 5:00pm! And the smell of fall…it is so hard to describe, but it was simply glorious. I also never really understood all that decorating in fall colors, the different styles of gourds (pumpkins are just 1 of zillions) and the drinking of hot beverages, until I lived in the Pacific Northwest! I think fall became my favorite time of year when we lived in Washington State. And it holds a special place in my heart. I will ever miss and long for those fall days in Maple Valley.
And now I live in the “far north,” the farthest north you can live and still be in America. It’s the home of the Iditarod and mushing, snow machining and ice fishing. It is called the “Land of the Midnight Sun” because during the summertime, we have very little dark. The oddest thing for me was taking my husband to the airport at 2:00am and not needing headlights. Perfectly light outside. On my way home, about 3:00am, I put on my head lights. And the other half of that saying is that it is the “Land of the Midnight Sun for three months, then the land of no sun.” And that is where I am today.
We are in Lent. At the end of Lent we have Easter. Typically Easter means Spring. It is also characterized by bright colors, flowers, and cute Easter dresses for girls, Easter bonnets, baskets, and little bunnies. All bright pinks, yellows, greens, and blues! Did I tell you have I grandchildren? Easter shopping for them is just so much fun! Except that up here, it is still winter. Today we have wind just howling against our house, shaking the little “Welcome to our Home” sign I recently got on clearance at Michael’s Craft Store (and which I am seriously thinking of taking down for awhile – it rattles against the house. Maybe that’s why it was on clearance!!!) and our combo screen/glass door rattling so that it sounds like someone is coming inside the house – which the dogs think they need to bark about and the cat needs to scurry away and hide from. We have snow in our forecast for today and tomorrow, as well as next week. It is a whopping 27-degrees outside right now. And we are preparing for Easter. I put my little jelly clings on my windows, all eggs and “Happy Easter,” yesterday and it was blowing snow. It is just such a difference from what I have ever experienced in life. In Washington, the tulips were coming up by now! In California, it was already shorts and flip-flops, iced tea and A/C weather!! But here, no here, it is still winter. And it’s still Lent!
I am planning our family Easter Basket in the Slavic tradition and have plans for making lamb butter (just a mold – not made out of a lamb) and cheese, getting some real German sausage, coloring my eggs (I even got some awesome Ukrainian egg wraps), and making a bow for it. And it is hard, trying to get excited about Easter, when it is all dark and gloomy. And it’s still Lent.
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.” (Matthew 26:36-45)
And I feel so guilty that I cannot even “stay awake” with the Lord. He has asked us to pray with Him, to keep watch with Him. Our watch with Him is Lent. He has asked us to help Him when His heart was so distressed, knowing what was facing Him. He wanted those who loved Him to be at His side. Christ, being also God, knew what was in the hearts of the three He had with Him. He even commented that He knew their “flesh is weak,” which I take to mean that God knows our trials are hard, but we are fleshy-humans with weak wills that succumb to our bodily weaknesses. The Apostles didn’t truly understand what Christ was about to go through, or I am sure their fear would have kept them wide awake. I always found it interesting that the deceit of Judas came in the dark, as most evil intentions do. And here I am, living in a land with so much of the year in darkness. The land struggles to find its way to Spring, just as we struggle to find our way through Lent. From the darkness to the light. From the Fast to the Feast. From floundering with ourselves, to the Light of Christ in our lives.
We all have demons and we all struggle with them. Our culture does not help us to tame our demons; it is a hedonistic society in which we live, in which esoteric struggles are met with “If it feels good, do it,” and other slogans. The idea of self-sacrifice is so foreign to most people. People of faith, however, are more used to models of sacrifice; the ultimate model of self-sacrifice is Christ on Our Cross. Because let’s not fool ourselves! Christ died for me. He came into this world to save sinners…and that is me. Christ would have sacrificed Himself had I been the only soul on earth. Because God deemed it right! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). Christ came to save us, but we need to remember that He came to save ME. It makes all of this far more personal, and salvation is, indeed, very personal. We, each of us, has to come to a personal knowledge and thanksgiving for the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross…and that cross has each of our names on it. Each time that hammer pounded on His Flesh, it was for ME. Each time His skin was torn through His Flagellation at the hands of the soldiers, it was torn for ME – it was torn BECAUSE OF ME. Each of us can personally share in the sacrifice of Christ, and each of us bears responsibility for that sacrifice. What helps bring the Spring, and allow the Light of Christ to shine, is how we corporately prepare and corporately celebrate this Gift from God – our salvation. We prepare together and hold each other up as we go out to meet the demons and the angels. We mourn together during Holy Week as we walk, once again, along that Way of the Cross with a beaten and battered Lord Who willingly gave His life for each of us. And when the clouds passed over His Cross, when the Temple’s cloth was torn asunder, and the sun shone brightly, we hold our collective breath. As Our Lord is lowered from our Cross and laid in His tomb, we wait, breathless, for the sun to shine. For that moment when He rises past all of it, to appear in Glory.
I believe that our passing through all these dark days, when we long for Spring and some warm weather, is the perfect time for Lent. It is amazing how much the sun can change how you look at everything. A couple of sunny days in a row and I am ready to redecorate! I want to paint and pull all the stuff off the walls and scrub! I want the light to come into a clean place. And I get all excited. And that is also the process of Lent. We pray. We sacrifice. We live in the darkness, just waiting for the snow to melt around our hearts and the sun (Son) to shine in all the dark places we’ve allowed to go untouched for far too long. And we can all feel it coming closer. We start to see that light far off. Occasionally the Church gives us a Feast Day in amongst all the fasting, and we get a glimpse of the full sunshine that is coming.
It is all so awesome. I will gladly not eat meat or treat myself to another movie, or read some incredible words penned by a Church father…because it is all preparing me for the day of the ultimate sunshine in my life, Pascha! Easter baskets will be shared, foods will be eaten, eggs will be cracked against each other, and everyone will be smiling. I KNOW that is coming. I KNOW God is working in my life and helping to prepare my heart for Pascha. For now, I will do like this photo:
And I will do so with a preparatory heart, knowing that:Blessed Lent!