It took me a long time to figure out what my Lenten discipline was going to be this year. So long, in fact, that I didn't really start it until yesterday. For those of you who aren't keeping track that would be a full week and a half after the official beginning of the season. I'll just call those first nine days my "Lenten Discernment Period."
I am surprised each year by how many of my friends who are of non-liturgical Christian traditions, and even some who are not Christian at all, celebrate some sort of Lenten fast. Perhaps in our culture of excess and consumption there is something compelling about a project that seems to require giving something up. Lent, for those of you who may not know, is the season of the church year that immediately precedes the season of Easter. It starts on Ash Wednesday and goes for forty days - an echo of the time that the scriptural Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his ministry of healing and miracle working. In the Episcopalian tradition that I am part of (and this would be similar for Catholics from what I understand) this time is seen as a chance to also wander in a desert of sorts. Things are toned down in mass. In my parish we don't have flowers, and the silver chalice sets used for communion are traded in for a simpler glass. The color is purple, to remind us of the royalty of Christ (also, we note in Godly Play, purple is a serious color and what is coming is something quite serious). This is the only time of year when the Rite of Reconciliation is formally offered in my parish (also known as Confession). And yes, many individuals look to tone down something in their own lives, often by giving something up.
I loved giving things up when I first began to celebrate Lent over a decade ago. I gave up coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, meat, sugar, you name it. But, in time, I found that I grew out of cigarettes, married a non-drinking vegetarian, and let's face it - the sugar thing never lasted the whole forty days. For the past four or five years I have been rather captivated by the idea of taking something up for Lent - using the time to wander in new deserts instead of revisiting the familiar ones. A couple years ago I took up running for Lent. Last year I took a yoga class, which stretched my mind and spirit as well as my body.
But this year it was so rainy when Lent began. On Ash Wednesday I perched on the window seat and marveled at the fervant, frantic, pounding raindrops and just couldn't imagine taking up the running project again just yet. Yoga didn't fit the schedule. I wanted to do something that would stretch me - not just physically, or maybe not physically at all. Last week I walked into my kitchen and it hit me. Housework is my desert.
I am capable of cleaning but domesticity has never really been my focus. I am, after all, a liberated woman with a husband who can cook and do dishes. I am a project person - so sometimes I sew, or crochet, and it's not completely unheard of for me to up and clean a room of the house but there is no rhythm to how I tackle the chores of domestic life. Since it is Lent I will go ahead and confess that I am often guilty of the "have we?" method of cleaning. (This method consists of asking Andrew a question like "have we cleaned the litter boxes lately?" and then moving blithely on, trusting that since I have done the chore of remembering it he will do the actual, you know, chore.)
So this Lent is my domestic Lent. I am going to explore the discipline of keeping house. I am going to clean the kitchen even if no one is coming over. I am going to sweep daily even if the nanny is bringing her dog with her tomorrow. I am going to fold clothes the day they come out of the dryer. I am going to see what I learn about God and myself by treating my home as if the Divine dwells here. Because, of course, I suspect she does.