It is Ash Wednesday, and I am finally home. I would have been home later had I stayed after services for Stations of the Cross and broken my fast at the soup dinner. But I have a small dog who waits for me, so I came home and walked her toward the lights of town in a quiet, puffy snow.
I finished work too late to get back to my own parish of St. Andrew, and that's how I ended up at St. Patrick's in Watertown. It's the big church, the huge Irish church, with colorful windows and murals of the doctors of the church in the cupola above the altar. I am never disappointed there and always awed by the gilt and stained glass when I first step inside.
The homily was about how we are not to brag or point out our Lenten sacrifices, for it we do, we have gotten our only reward of them -- not the forgiveness, the penance, the salvation, God's approval, but only the momentary recognition that we are doing something unusual. It's a cruel homily, and I hear it every year. It is cruel for this penitent anyway, because I would love for someone to ask why I have ashes on my head, why I'm not eating, "why so pale and wan, fond lover, prithee, why so pale?" I am as silly as the addressed in that poem because I like only the praise of fasting, not the sacrifice.
And so I come to this dilemma: I set about to chronicle my Lenten progress here, yet I must do it in a way that doesn't brag, or whine, or imply that I am proud of how difficult it is. And it is difficult, friends (and by "friends," I mean "Daddy," for he is the principle reader). I have given up Facebook and committed to at least one extra Mass, Stations or Holy Hour a week. That just ensures that I will crave my far-flung friends more than usual and have meetings at every hour of church for the next forty days. For this is how Lent works: What I cannot have, I crave incessantly.
But here is also how Lent works: I plant seeds at Ash Wednesday and hope they grow. So far, they always grow until I transplant them outside. But this year I have my own yard. The little seedlings won't always have to live in pots that are inevitably too shallow for things that want to reach down into the earth as far as they reach into the sky.
For weeks, the seeds are in the dirt and I can't see them. Then they poke out green or white or translucent threads, and then a stem, and then a leaf. ("A speck! A mist! A shape I wist!") And by Easter, they look like plants. And at Easter, I look more like myself too, because I've been underground, resting and contemplating how best to unfold myself toward the light.