The Longest Lent

I’m writing this on the day before Easter, the last day of Lent.  This should be the last day of fasting and self-discipline, the day I’m preparing to resurrect the Maundy Thursday leftovers in a festive reception to follow the overwhelmingly inspiring Easter Vigil service, the middle of a weekend of seeing friends and family and sharing food.

But this is 2020.

This year, Lent has taken an unexpected turn that impacts most Earthlings worldwide and impacts me personally much more even than being pregnant for Lent in 2012.

Most of us Earthlings right now are fasting from social contact and visiting public spaces.  It’s not our Lenten discipline; it just happens that the coronavirus pandemic happened to spread worldwide during Lent.  And we can’t come out on Easter.  In fact, some statistical models predict peak deaths on Easter Sunday (April 12) here in the United States.  This is no time to crowd together with all our church friends and all those people who come to church only once a year!

We won’t even be able to go out after Easter for at least 3 weeks.  Schools here in Pennsylvania have been closed for 3 weeks so far and will not reopen for the rest of this school year.  Fasting from getting the kids up and out of the house early every morning is not so bad . . . but my kindergartner is fasting from her daily after-school walk to the park to play with her best friend for an hour or more; my 9th-grader is fasting from bringing his friends over to our house after school and hanging around his bedroom sharing food with them.  And the end of this fast is not yet in sight.

Shrove Tuesday seems so long ago!  Our parish pancake dinner happened in another era, an alternate reality, a crowded world in which we were able to share all kinds of places with all kinds of people.  In just six weeks, that’s all changed–and the extreme change will be temporary, but it will be a long time before I can take my kid on the subway to the Science Center to enjoy a bunch of educational toys with throngs of other kids or take her to Girl Scout camp to sleep in a room with 14 people we just met–two things we did just before Lent.

This article was going to be “Things Not To Do: COVID-19 Edition” when I first started writing it almost a month ago.  I was going to advise you Earthlings not to do all those risky things, not to ignore the CDC’s advice on coronavirus control, not to be a jerk on social media if you happen to be an introvert who thrives on social distancing . . . but I’m pleased to see you kind of got the hang of it without my help, while I was sidelined, and now I can stick to just three Things Not To Do:

Don’t get sick with something else.

This is a terrible time to do that!  Any illness will stress your immune system, making you more vulnerable to the coronavirus if you pick that up.  Health care professionals are really busy, so you’ll have to wait for a call back about your symptoms, and they’re going to be as reluctant to see you in person as you are reluctant to walk into a health-care facility these days.

Especially, don’t get a coughing illness!  Especially not one that lingers for weeks just when you’re trying to get organized about having everyone home all the time and cleaning all the things!  I mean really, what were you thinking?!

Well, I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t think it would be a fine idea to get sick on March 16; it just happened without my consent!

That timing has had a silver lining, though: It motivated my family to stop having guests at all (a week earlier, we had cut out large gatherings, overnight visits, and shared food), to keep me isolated in my bedroom as much as possible for the 3 days I was really sick and “seemed contagious”, to clean all those “high-touch surfaces” around the house, and to switch to someone else being our primary grocery shopper.

I won’t go into any indoor public place, like a store, until I’m completely done coughing and sneezing.  The theory is that I had some other virus, but then a week later I got a secondary bacterial infection.  The first antibiotic made me a little better for a few days, but then I got worse again.  The second antibiotic seems to be working, but I’m still not back to normal 26 days after my first symptom.  This sucks!!!

Don’t think you’ll save lives by destroying our Earth.

Vanquishing the virus will mean nothing if our planet is too hot to live on and we turn all of our resources into garbage!  Now is the cool of the day.  We cannot let this new crisis distract us from the other crisis that threatens our survival.

That’s why the only article I wrote and published during my illness was about how avoiding coronavirus does not require disposable plastic stuff, and in fact, you might use this extra time at home and/or disrupted access to your usual disposable products as an opportunity to take on some new Earth-friendly habits!

Don’t go to church on Easter.

Please stay home, keeping your germs to yourself and keeping new germs out.

I know, you want to be part of a big crowd joining your voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of Heaven proclaiming glory to God in the highest!!!  I know!  I want that, too!  I’m crying every time I think about it.

But . . . we’ve kind of been spoiled by getting to have that every year.  Every year, we start Holy Week knowing how the story ends and exactly when our time of trial will be completed.  You know what?  Jesus doesn’t need our help to come back from the dead.  It already happened.  We have this annual tradition of remembering our sin and his sacrifice and the terrible trauma of living without him for “three days” (really about 39 hours), and as we go through our rituals we can start to feel like Jesus needs us cheering from the bleachers to wake him up and bring him back.  But really, it’s all in God’s hands; really, Jesus has been alive and our sins have been forgiven all through this season, and Easter is just a reminder!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t celebrate Easter.  Definitely, do that in a way that’s meaningful to you, whether it’s attending online church or singing hymns with your family or reading the Gospels or going outside to surround yourself with sunshine and birds and flowers and tiny new leaves and all the glory of nature’s rebirth, or all of the above.  Just don’t congregate in person.  Please.  Please stay home this year so that we’ll be able to be together again next year, and fewer of us will be dead by then.

What if the epidemiologists’ prophecies come true, and Easter is the day of peak deaths or at least the deadliest day yet?  Would that mean God doesn’t love us anymore or Jesus isn’t keeping his promise to deliver us from death?  Well, I keep reminding myself of what I’ve taught my children:

Jesus came back to show us that dying is not the end of everything, that when we live in Love we go on forever. Those high priests killed Jesus to show how powerful they were, but God is more powerful even than death.

This life on Earth, with all its joys and wonders, is not the only thing or the best thing.  If you believe that when we die, we go to live with God . . . then some of your Easter alleluias can go toward thanking God for welcoming the people who will die that day and for the promise that when your time comes, you will be welcomed too, and that’s not a bad thing.

Of course we will miss the people who died.  Of course our lives on Earth will be sadder as we feel the loss of people we will never see again and feel the absence of people who are separated from us right now.  But this time is just this time; it isn’t forever.

Easter is not canceled.  When you picture your beloved church standing empty on a day when it “should be” full–remember the empty tomb; remember that that emptiness is a sign of hope and renewal.  Be not afraid!  He is not here; he has risen.  And you don’t have to be in church to experience it.

If you’re among the majority of Earthlings who don’t care about Easter or Jesus, there’s hope for you, too!  Look out the window at our Earth unfolding a new season.  Look at all the ways this crisis is bringing out the best in people.  Look for the weird little moments of inspiration that come your way through the things you happen to read or hear or see as you fumble through this strange season.

My daughter recently has been obsessed with the record album based on the Disney film of The Jungle Book and has been playing it at least once a day.  Although I’m getting really tired of hearing it over and over again while I’m trapped in my house, unable to see all the people and have the adult conversations that make my normal life so stimulating, I can’t escape the encouraging message of the song “The Bear Necessities”:

When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinking about it,
I’ll tell you something true:
The bare necessities of life will come to you.

Hang in there!  We Earthlings will work together through this crisis and emerge to a changed but still wonderful world.  Behold, new things will spring forth!


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10 thoughts on “The Longest Lent

  1. Hi it’s Brenda from Thanks for stopping by. I followed your link here and was very intrigued by this post. There’s so much that’s changed in a relatively short time. I doubt life will ever fully return to what it was in the past but here’s hoping some “normal” will happen again soon. This really has seemed like “forever.”

    • Yes, it has! Now I’m starting to see how being sick made it easier for me to accept being home all the time, and I’m noticing more how weird it is that I haven’t left my neighborhood in weeks. I keep wondering how long it will be before we can do risky things like…eating at a salad bar.

        • I don’t think it’s helpful to picture any particular end date when we really don’t know what will develop (vaccine, etc.) at what time or what the gradual reduction of crisis mode will look like. We need to live in “now” and make the best of it, and just wait to see what’s next!

  2. I hope you are feeling much better now, Becca! It really did seem a very long Lent indeed, and what a different world it was at the end than at the beginning. I rejoice that we still have the good news of the resurrection to celebrate every Easter, regardless of our circumstances. We are now in our fourth week of staying in to stay safe here in the UK, with at least 3 more weeks ahead of us if not more – but it is worth it to keep ourselves and others from dying. Take care, stay safe and well, and as always, thank you for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link party community.

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