Lent by Sharon Ackerman

The word Lent derives from an Old English word meaning ‘lengthen.’ Or more precisely, it comes from the Middle English word lente which means springtime, which itself descends from the Old English lencten. Of course the forty day period of Lent comes at a time when days are lengthening and a few green tips of flowers are testing the air. It is this time of lightening that enters the liturgical calendar as a season of reflection and forgiveness.

As it turns out, reflection and forgiveness are complicated. Friends in recovery from alcoholism tell me they have done considerable work around issues of forgiveness, both self and others. Indeed, if you attend an AA meeting, and I recommend you do, it is one of the few places where the spirituality of humility and confession are palpable—you’ll hear it said that resentments are a sure path to relapse. They are, it seems, too heavy to bear.

Lent is in many ways a kind of internal spring cleanse. And a call back to the wilderness where such a spiritual calibration can happen. Witness John the Baptist in his wilderness river calling home the lost, or the forty days in the desert of temptations. Witness the desert Fathers and Mothers flooding into the wilds to escape the Christianizing Roman empire, searching for something closer to the mystical heart than the early churches offered.

I smile when I see the Lenten rose, which gets its ecclesiastical name from its early flowering period. It is a harbinger of spring and a remnant of the symmetry between the Celtic earth-based calendar and the liturgical calendar. It is one of the sights calling us back to the wilderness during this Lenten, both to rest in the true nature of our being, and to prepare our presence for the world through the healing realization of what we have done and left undone.

Kentucky poet Wendell Berry wrote a remarkable poem of reflection that I find especially relevant this time of year. I am not even sure I can do justice in describing how he captures the pervasiveness of accusation and the captivity of verdicts we impose on ourselves. It ends with the rising clemency of nature, taking us into a weightless sky as we give up our imposter selves and the wounded shame that can rule a life.

light purple rose
Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash.

Do Not Be Ashamed
by Wendell Berry

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

Sharon Ackerman
Sharon Ackerman is poetry editor for Streetlight Magazine. Her poems have appeared in the Southern Humanities Review, Atlanta Review, Appalachian Places, Still: The Journal, Meridian, Valparaiso Poetry Review, among others. Her most recent manuscript, A Legacy of Birds, shortlisted for the Arthur C Smith poetry prize, and her collection Revised Light is available through Main Street Rag Publishing.

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