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clouds of unknowing

Lent is frequently depicted in linear fashion, one day, one Sunday after another. However, this year I am feeling more as if I have entered a cloud of a season, unclear, unpredictable, with poor visibility. I have taught a class on preparing for Lent, with particular attention to the ways we observe it in my tradition. I have considered and decided practices that I want to follow during these “40 days,” minus Sundays. I have considered the external signs that signify Lent in the Church: purple paraments, special services for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week, a purple candle alight where I sit for sacred conversations, a cross in the sanctuary for prayerful intentions to be tied with ribbons. But somehow in these days in none of those things are giving shape and order to my days, my musing, my habits.

Instead I am needing to continue to travel each day as it arises, some days not knowing where I am going or where I will end up. Some of this is shaped by the ongoing recovery of my husband after surgery. Some is shaped by deadlines set by agencies and “powers that be.” Sometimes the calendar for this year demands attention to occasion that are counter in spirit to Lenten solemnity. And sometimes “things fall apart,” according to Chinua Achebe, “the best laid plans go oft agley,” as Robert Burns tells us. Lent is not so much a journey as it is an ambiance, a backdrop, a cloud of mist which covers my intentional forward vision. This week alone, I have encountered tears and laughter, memory and forgetting, beauty and ugliness, health and healing. And I haven’t known what will arrive until is does! No guarantee that what I plan will be what I can or will do!

So am thrown back on the many times in sacred text where the promise is that clarity will emerge, where resources will be provided, and where Grace will abound. I love the early Christian hymn which names that state of unknowing: Now we see in a mirror dimly…Now I know only in part…” (1 Cor, 13: 12). Then the hymn writer points us back to the daily practices, Lent or not: And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (v.13) So in the midst of this cloud, I can find some place to practice paying attention to the Jesus journey, by asking myself as each new event or demand arises: does this help me be Faithful–to the Holy? to the ones I love? to those given to me to serve? And/or does this help me be Hopeful, sharing that hope with those I encounter? And most importantly, will this be something to which I can be bring Love, which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. endures all things?

Joni Mitchell taught me long ago that clouds have many sides to them, that I really don’t know clouds at all, but I don’t need to know what the clouds have in store. I can, with Spirit tenderness and presence, show up for the cloud of each day with Faith, Hope and Love, on this Lenten journey, even as Jesus whom I follow did!