Earth time

Daily Reading for March 10

The forty penitential weekdays and six Sundays that follow Mardi Gras and precede Easter are the days of greatest calm in the church’s year. Since by long centuries of custom the date of Easter is annually determined from the first Sunday after the full moon on or after March 21, the intertwining of physical and spiritual seasons is virtually inevitable. The resulting union of deep winter and holy preparation makes reflection, even penitence, a natural activity. . . .

“Lenzin,” our German ancestors used to call this season, and since then we have called it “Lent.” It is a time when Christians decorate stone churches with the sea’s color and wrap their priests in the mollusk’s purple. It was once a time when all things passed through the natural depression of seclusion, short food supplies, and inactivity, a time when body and land both rested. It is still, in the country, a final sanity before the absurd wastefulness of spring.

Each year at this time it is harder for me to desire butterflies and lilies, even to wish for resurrection. Each year I come a little closer to needing the dullness of the sky and the rarity of a single redheaded woodpecker knocking for grubs in the pine bark. Each year also I come a little closer to the single-mindedness of the drake who, muddy underside showing, waddles now across the ice to the cold center water to wash himself for his mate, all in the hope of ducklings later on. . . .

In the summer the drake would have a family, which he would abandon to the mate he had so much desired, and the woodpecker’s carmine head would burn out to tired tan. The farm in the summer becomes like the city is all year: too much color, too much noise, too much growing, too much hurry to stave off loss and destruction, too little natural death and gentle ending, too little time for play, too little pointless imagination. . . . Once summer comes, I spend it wallowing in the easiness of it—the excess of its fruits and vegetables, the companionship of the constant sounds as the hum of the insects and of the rototillers give way in the evening to the croaking of the frogs and the raucousness of the katydids. . . . But now it is Lent once again, and for one more snow I can luxuriate in the isolation of the cold, attend laconically to who I am, what I value, and why I’m here. Religion has always kept earth time. Liturgy only gives sanction to what the heart already knows.

From “Final Sanity” in Wisdom in the Waiting: Spring’s Sacred Days by Phyllis Tickle, in her series “Stories from The Farm In Lucy” (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2004).

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