This Lent has started off very Lentish. Though Ash Wednesday was a real ‘high’ if that’s possible, the day after took a nose dive with lots of crazy,awful things happening in the lives of people I love and also in the life of the world. And although it is not as cold as it had been for over 50, count ‘em, 50 days, the Sun seems to have gone somewhere to hide….like Florida or Arizona. At least when it was really, really cold, the Sun was doing its miraculous, brilliant work making the snow dance in a glittery way and making that beautiful contrast of a Mary-the-Mother-of-Jesus blue sky and white, white, white ground.
So, I am finding myself only three days into this season of reflection feeling a little off and not just a little bit down. But even as I write this I want to do one of those fake face slaps and tell myself to “Snap out of it!” I am, right now, reminding myself that along with a whole lot of other people I am unpacking what it means to walk, talk, live in the ‘Holy Way’, our faith community’s Lenten theme. And the journey along that Holy Way doesn’t mean that things are always rosy or positive, comfortable, or even pleasant. In fact, most of the time they are probably not.
I am reminded of the time a year or so ago when I fulfilled one of the things on my bucket list. My husband and I traveled in Ireland to a small fishing village on the southern coast so we could take a boat out to the island of Skellig Michael. I had read about this steep, rocky landscape that once was home to monks who prayed,wrote and illuminated scriptures with both pen and their lives. I had wanted to travel there for years after seeing their beehive huts perched high above the churning, icy waters of the Atlantic.
On a cloudy, rainy morning we boarded a small boat with several others and headed out into rough seas. The little boat was, we assumed equipped with life jackets but we were not told where they were. The water was choppy and sloshed over the edges of the boat. I was thankful to one of the other passengers who told me to ‘keep my eyes on the ‘horizon’ to prevent being sick. It worked. And we arrived some time later to climb onto the stone steps that had been chiseled out of the land. Waiting for the boat to pitch up in the air, as I had been instructed, I threw myself out of the boat and onto the island.
The wind was fierce and there were no railings to hold onto as we climbed the steep steps. I was frightened but just kept moving, slowly, and breathing deeply. Several times I had to tuck myself into the nook of a rock when it seemed the wind would pick me up and send me flying into the sea. As I walked I felt a deep connection with those faithful ones who had made this climb before, those who had sweat and bled to form a life close to God in this place. I felt as if I might be being held in some of their courage.
Once we made our way to the top of the island and onto the plateau into which had been built a chapel, a cemetery and the huts that housed these ancient ones,the wind was less frightening. Inside the beehives, I sat looking out at the sea like a bird in its nest. Inside was sheer silence and I understood how their prayers had secured them in this sacred place.
The memory of this place came back to me this week because during our Ash Wednesday service, we were held my a looping set of images of what some have named as holy places. One of the images was of Skellig Michael. Seeing it projected, I was transported there and the sense memory of wind and rain, of fear and difficulty, of prayer and sacred silence was reborn in me.
The meaning of the word Lent, in its most ancient form is ‘to lengthen’. And the reason we call this season before Easter by this name is that the days will indeed become longer and the Sun will shine brighter and fuller. The snow will melt and the days will warm. We will see the rebirth of the Earth and of the lives of those who right now are walking difficult paths. We will, hopefully understand in some new way the life of Jesus and the movement of God in his life…..and what that might mean in our own.
The Holy Way is not an easy path but it is always a worthwhile path.The important thing is to remember to step carefully. Rest. Breathe. Pray. And repeat.