So Lent seems to be a human invention. We like to periodically go off the scales thinking it will make us better people.
After spending time in New Orleans during Mardi Gras I think I understand it. It’s a bit like Christmas: part tradition, part family reunion, and part economic boost. Did you know the New Orleans schools take the week off for Mardi Gras? The banks were closed yesterday, too.
It is entirely possible that Jesus would have enjoyed a good Mardi Gras parade. He was in that parade riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, after all. I’m talking about the good parades like they have in the neighborhoods like Slidell that are very family oriented. These clubs are formed specifically for the parade to highlight some special interest group like the one for women business owners.Where floats hold the elementary school football teams. I'm not so sure about the ones on Bourbon Street. No, definitely not those parades. No beads for Jesus.
But the solemnity of a season like Lent holds back my natural exuberance and I feel a bit like a dog with a tight collar on its neck.
I do, however, fervently agree with the concept of seasons for the church. The church year is a cycle and we need an occasional up and down to keep things from getting boring. I like the rhythm of worship: we gather ourselves in, read the word, hear it explained to us, then go out to live what we learned. Like waves on the ocean, we come in and go out.
I also enjoy a time of quiet contemplation. And I need it enforced upon me once in a while or I might not ever take it upon myself to be still. I once organized a retreat to study the Spiritual Practices mostly because I wanted to study them but needed structure for my study. As I age, being still is easier but thoughtful prayer is still a bit of a problem.
And I still struggle with the idea of giving things up for Lent. It’s an old Catholic custom and I don’t think it applies to a good Presbyterian like me. Maybe once in a while it’s good to have a discipline to attend to, a limit to our lives—to pull us back into ourselves. But there are limits to what I want to limit. I spent one Lent without a morsel of Chocolate and I think once in a lifetime is quite enough, ThankYouVeryMuch.
There is one peculiar habit I’ve seen in churches that causes me to pause and think. Some of the more fervent churches eliminate “Hallelujah"s during Lent. They banish it from all the songs and liturgy during the Lenten season. I understand their reasoning. I guess the word doesn’t fit into their idea of solemnity. But it chaffs sometimes to have this particular restriction. Chocolate is bad enough. Getting rid of the Hallelujahs makes life even more somber.
For the last year or so I’ve been playing with a poem. I taped it to my bathroom mirror and occasionally move a word around here and there. I don’t usually write poetry so when I do I get really proud of myself.
I will leave you with it today. Be gentle. Poetry is like a small child to the author. We trust you to accept it with love.
Where Do the Hallelujahs Go to Hide?
Where do the Hallelujahs go to hide during Lent?
When they are banished from sanctuaries
And silenced from our songs
When they are politely told
It’s nothing personal but
They are not appropriate until Easter morning.
“Come back on Easter,” we tell them
We need to be quiet for a while
I think they hide in the playgrounds
Where they whisper themselves to the children
Periodically burping into a giggle here and there
Quietly biding their time in the midst of play
Then on Easter morning they return
Louder then ever
Striding into the Sanctuary with bold, strong steps
Ripping down the black drapes
Bringing the lights up
Cuing the trumpets
Then winking at the children for their shared secret
With promises to sing at their weddings.