Monday, February 22, 2010

New Life Through Lent...Prepare the Way

Yesterday the doorbell rang which of course set off the ferocious barking of Daisy, our Westie wonder watch dog. This isn't unusual as you never know who may be at the door, or what critters might wander across our lawn. Daisy has a huge vocabulary which is different for squirrels, other dogs or cats, people on the street, the UPS guy, people who come to the door and especially the postman. Wow does he get some intense barking. I really believe she is certain it is solely her earnest barking which keeps him from coming right into the house, as our mailbox is just outside the front door.

But this visitor brought two pleasant surprises. One was a jar of maple butter and the other was his annual request to tap the maple trees. "Already??" I asked. "Really?" He seemed a little amused at my inability to keep track of the shift in the season and he smilingly reassured me that yes, now is the time to begin the sugaring season.
When you think of it, there's more than a little irony in the timing of this, as just the day before was Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent and the time we think of some kind of self-deprivation…not "sugaring" and the luscious sweetness springing from the heart of the sugar maple trees.

The concept of choosing something we enjoy and giving it up during the Lenten season is for the purpose of feeling the little vacuum and pang from its temporary loss in order to step a bit away from the world and walk more closely with Jesus…to fill that vacuum with prayer, Bible reading, quiet time, or some other spiritual reading or activity to deepen our relationship with the Lord. The fact that the timing of this coincides with "sugaring season" gives even further dimension to what this opportunity for spiritual growth is about.

Those who have lived in maple syrup country know that the syrup doesn't just flow straight out of the trees, ready to be poured on pancakes or other yummy food. Tapping the trees is just the start of the process which will then involve lots of boiling down to get to the real essence of the luscious, precious golden syrup itself. The sap is strained to remove any little odd bits which have fallen into it and then the boiling and separating into different qualities of syrup begins.

When you think of it, this is very similar to the spiritual process and purpose of Lent, too. Sifting out the things in our hearts and lives which keep us from being closer to Jesus as well as from healthier relationships with others, and enduring whichever deprivation we may choose or discipline we elect to practice in this season in order to become more united with the heart of Christ, deepen our relationship with Him, and experience more fulfilled and joyful Christian living.

If we look even more closely at the tree symbolism, the sweetness of our salvation and eternal life involves trees as well. Beginning with the harsh long spiky thorns of the Hawthorn bush from which the "Crown of Thorns" was woven as a crown of humiliation for Jesus, to the trees which furnished the timbers for Jesus' cross for his crucifixion, death and resurrection, so also is the precious sweet essence in the sugar maple tree brought forth through the intense and completely transformative process it undergoes. Of course maple syrup is a non-essential luxury and a treat. Our salvation and eternal life is a blessed gift to embrace and celebrate.

We people are similar to sugar maple trees. Some have more harsh exteriors with bark which seems impossible to penetrate. Some are gnarled and bent, or have branches which make them appear unapproachable. But inside all of us is the sweetness God put there when we were made. Some of us have either forgotten about it or have broken places in our hearts which make it difficult for us to access or even believe it's there, let alone enjoy it ourselves or dispense it to others.

This year I'm choosing a different path for my Lenten journey. Instead of taking up a special book to study, or give up something I delight in, I'm going to carve out time every day for prayerful "sifting". My purpose will be to ask the Lord to show me the inner things which need to be healed, the broken places as well as the habits which get in the way of more peace in my life, and ask Him to remove them from me. I'll include Bible reading about the time in Jesus' life which Lent commemorates, beginning with Matthew 4:1-11 and expand from there. It's a journey we can all take to sort out and get rid of the things which keep us from our inner sweetness, the love of Christ and His goodness which dwells deep in our hearts to enjoy and share with others. In this way, I'll be preparing the way for new life just as the maple trees are preparing for spring, and as we prepare to celebrate our new life in Christ at Easter. Why not choose to take this journey, too?