Yesterday – suddenly, it seemed – we arrived on the shores of Lent. I had been watching the weeks of Ordinary Time pass by like buoys on the way to the harbor. I had ordered the Paschal Candle and readied the sacristy for the season. I had prepared ashes from last year’s palm. I had reflected on what to choose for my Lenten reading. But still, Lent seemed to arrive suddenly, as if I had not been paying attention at all.
Suddenly, it seemed, there were ashes on my forehead. Purple vestments at Mass. Breakfast in silence. Table reading at dinner. A meal of potato soup and a slice of bread. A Lenten exhortation from our Prioress. A blessing for my Lenten reading.
I worked yesterday as usual, but the atmosphere was quiet and subdued. In the afternoon, I walked down to the basement and saw a Sister sweeping, sweeping, as if clearing away ordinary hours and days to make a space for this sacred season. As I went about my errand, she finished sweeping and began to collect stray garden tools, arranging them carefully in a cart.
Here on the shores of Lent, it is time to sweep and clear, gather and arrange, to collect the stray bits that clutter the inner shoreline. Perhaps the arrival felt sudden, but it is now time to be still, to be timeless, to be slow, to let nothing be sudden, to expect anything. It is time to be like a wave coming ashore, both arriving and receding, both presence and absence, hands open in trust and folded in humble repose. It is time to be both empty and full, in single-hearted, attentive prayer.