Guest Post by Deacon Dan Lupo
In Chicago, where I grew up, March days are shrouded in gray, blasted by icy wind, and blanketed by snow.
Perfect Lent weather.
The weather is Lent-perfect because the gray skies evoke a somber mood, which matches the serious attitude Lent fosters. Lent calls for soberly examining our faith journeys and honestly assessing where and how to deepen our relationship with God through prayer, fasting and alms-giving.
The weather is Lent-perfect because March’s icy winds whistling off Lake Michigan prompt a “going within” – whether by staying indoors and out of the biting blasts, or – if outside – by dressing to minimize skin exposure: chin hunkered deep into a turtle neck sweater, under an insulated parka; nose and mouth wrapped by a thick scarf; and ears and eyebrows tucked under a wool knit hat.
This hunkering down is like Lent’s call to go within, to introspect, to penetrate the layers of compromises and justifications and addictions we wrap around our fears and insecurities and poor choices to insulate ourselves against life’s stinging gusts – introspection that unwraps and reveals our true selves: good and true and beautiful as God made us, as God sees us, as God invites us to see ourselves.
The weather is Lent-perfect because the snow-flocked landscape all too soon becomes sullied as relentless driving, plowing, and salting spoils the undulating white blanket, leaving black jagged heaps along the curb. I turn wistful when I see the snow blackened; I turn repentant when I sense my soul darkened by the relentless driving, plowing, and salting of the enemy’s temptations, the world’s seductions, and my own well-practiced concupiscence.
Lent is a time for prayerful meditation: for looking clear-eyed at our sinful nature, for contemplating our mortality (and our promise of eternity), and for marveling at God’s gifts of undeserved mercy and unmerited salvation.
Lent is a time for recognizing our utter need for a Savior because of our imperfect surrender to His will and inconsistent cooperation with His grace. Only by that grace do we advance in our improbable journey toward sainthood. Lent is a time also to celebrate that grace, His gift that is with us always, until the end of the age.
And amid the prayer, charity, and fasting of Lent, my meditation leads me to our Lord’s passion: a Son obedient to His Father’s will, embodied our sin, embraced our death, and enacted the ultimate expression of sacrificial love to destroy both sin and death and gift us with salvation. This love beckons me, renews me, empowers me, and illuminates my path past bare trees tortured black in fear, onward toward a radiant, empty tomb bursting with the impossible lightness of love.
How beholden I am: to the Father, who loved me into existence; to His Son, who shows me the way, truth, and life in communion with Him; and to their Spirit whose fire burns compassion into me, whose mercy washes me clean, and whose grace inspires Life within me.
All of which I am to give away. Not give back, give forward. For I know from futile efforts I cannot give back love to God, just as I can never repay my own father for all he gave me: food, warmth, security, family, heritage, identity, name, life… I can only give love forward.
And so I offer imperfect gestures of prayer, fasting, and charity…so mustard-seed small, so grain-of-sand insignificant, so faith-starved superficial… and repay my father for his flawed but genuine love by passing on my own stumble-bumble version to my daughter, and hoping that God – I mean my father – will value the effort more than the result, and see in my deeds the oceanic depths of my utter beholdenness to him — a gratitude as large as the cosmos, and as immediate as my next breath.
Recently I rediscovered the following poem, written years ago under Lent’s introspective spell. In it I recognize the Chicago boy I once was, and the Austin deacon I have become. And the impossible beholdenness I have for my father’s love, and for my Father’s love.
With one hand cupping the other
To catch the blood leaking
From my punctured thumb, bit
As I fed bike chain to sharp sprocket teeth
I flew with a child’s wild fear
Toward the certain salvation
Of my father’s basement workbench.
And when I offered him my pale arm
With deep red rivulets streaming down
My father did not flinch
But rose without a word and knew
To clamp my wrist in his paw-like fist
And press his other palm low upon my back
To waltz me to the sink
Where in awe I watched
As water changed to wine
Then drained again to water.
He dried my hand and held it high:
I dared not move.
Then with unexpected tenderness
He daubed a cotton ball with balm
And fixed it gently to my wound
And smiled. “OK?”
Wide-eyed I nodded and sniff, sniff, sniffed
The way a little body heaves relieved
When a storm has passed and the tears recede
And the miracle of a father’s love
Dawns bright across a little boy’s heart
And a lifetime would pass
Before that boy’s wide-eyed beholdenness
Became a grown man’s tears
At a Son’s blood
And a Father’s healing.