Conversion in the ‘dog days’ of Lent

As we head into April, we enter what sometimes feels like the “dog days” of Lent. That phrase often describes the hottest, weariest days of summer, but it also refers to a time of sluggishness.

Let’s face it, we often start Ash Wednesday with big plans and then we hit Lent’s last two or three weeks and thoughts of that glass of wine, that cappuccino, that chocolate brownie we’ve denied ourselves begin to overtake us. This is especially true if our Lenten observance entails giving up something.

We try to remember why our resolutions seemed like such a good idea at the beginning of March. We forget that Lent is supposed to be a combination of fasting, prayer and almsgiving — all of them feeding into each other to contribute to a conversion of heart. I also forget that I’m supposed to be asking not what I am “doing” but what God might be doing in me.

The other evening I went to my faith-sharing group, a very small group that started last summer. The conversation turned to “how is your Lent going.”

We always meet at a friend’s who lives in an old house in mid-town. Her little home is right across the alley from a cemetery. When we began in the summer, we would sit out on some mismatched patio chairs in the backyard with the graveyard a few yards away and watch her chickens scratch around in the dirt looking for whatever it is chickens look for.

It seemed an appropriate place to contemplate where our spiritual lives were heading.

During the season, she brought in some baby chicks, and rather than stay in the little makeshift chicken coop with the hens, they roamed freely in the back yard until nightfall. Then the garage door would be opened and the little chicks would obediently scurry inside as if they instinctively knew that if they stuck around in the dark they would be fodder for the raccoons and hawks that populate the area.

When we met after her family had taken their summer vacation, the chicks were gone. Someone assigned to garage door duty had forgotten their task. The predators won that round.

Later, in the fall, we sat on the front porch with blankets, until winter’s chill moved us into the living room where a soft light illuminates the tales we tell of our journey.

At the “how are we doing for Lent” event, I felt a certain camaraderie with a couple of other people who seemed to share a little of my sluggishness.

But another friend amazed me. She’s fasting in the sense that her first two meals of the day are very tiny; her daily morning trip to Mass is “feeding” her. She’s contributing all the money she’s not using for wine or spirits to her sacrificial almsgiving, even including forgoing a Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day and substituting an iced tea.

She’s turning off screens in the evening and reading Kathleen Norris’ “Amazing Grace” for inspiration, as well as Pope Francis’ “The Name of God is Mercy.”

We all shared what was working for us, but as our hour ended, I felt a little like the kid who was called on in class and didn’t have the right answer.

Soon, the weather will take us outside to the back yard again. Sometimes, we will have good news to share and sometimes we’ll share our struggle. The journey always has both.

But the graveyard will be our silent reminder that the ultimate victory is Christ’s. Happy Easter.

The writer is formerly from Anchorage. She now lives in Omaha, Neb.

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