I have always loved Lent and Holy Week. When I was young, I enjoyed the challenge of fasting. Holy Week was the powerful culmination of it all, so I would try to make the fast even harder then, like a sprint at the end of a marathon. Chocolate quickly got boring, so once I gave up all desserts. Another year, I gave up lying. (I’m a PK – Preacher’s Kid; enough said.) And then there’s the famous year sometime in my 20s when I decided I’d better give up swearing. (PK, remember?) Both my sister Trelawney and my husband just love to remind me of how I literally swore while walking out of the Ash Wednesday service. And didn’t even notice. And when they finally explained why they were laughing at me, I, of course, immediately cursed again. Sigh. Well, I respond each time, that’s why I decided to give it up in the first place!
My kids and I have also had a lot of fun observing Lent and Holy Week. Each year, it teaches us something new about abundance – especially amid the wealth of intensity and ritual during the last week. We are not legalistic about it; we just want to learn and grow together. One year, we limited plastic as much as possible. And I’ll never forget the year we gave up paper products. That was the first year we didn’t get sore noses, because we used handkerchiefs instead of tissues. As Trelawney likes to say, we finally stopped blowing our noses on a tree.
My daughters are both in high school now, and this year, we chose the hardest Lenten discipline we’ve ever done. In addition to some fasting (toilet paper, believe it or not, which ended up coming in very handy due to the pandemic), we decided to read through Gayle Boss’s new book, Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing. Each week, she offers four devotionals about critically endangered wild creatures and the humans that are trying to help them.
It’s tough. We have to light candles and breathe deeply and weep and sing and pray in order to face this particular spiritual discipline. Sometimes, we make a donation, too. I periodically check in – are you sure you want me to keep reading this one? Should we keep using this book? And they always respond, yes. We need to do this. This is the most important thing we are doing right now.
We have many ways to work through it together. We’ve been through tough things before. Because of childhood trauma, I developed PTSD when my mother passed away very suddenly ten years ago. She had been living with us, so it was devastating for my daughters as well. We have spent a lot of time learning about fear, grief, and resilience. Last week, as we were about to read our Lenten devotional, my younger daughter asked me, how did you get through Holy Week the year Grandma died? I immediately answered, I finally understood Holy Week the year Grandma died.
I’ve written elsewhere about death and resurrection. What, our faith ancestors asked, does hope mean in the face of crushing loss? What if, sometimes, it means we pause, right where we are? We don’t rush out to look for it, somewhere bright and vibrant? What if – sometimes – it dwells with us, and within us, deep inside the tomb itself?
Thanks to so many things – my wise ancestors, my loving family, my powerful faith tradition, my gentle seminary mentors – I feel more grateful every year for the Grace that holds me and heals me and guides me to grow. So I leave you with a song I wrote that Lent, a Lent of profound, earth shattering loss. And a Lent of the discovery of a sacred ark, which carried me through a relentless, devastating flood.
Loss is rough. May you find an ark as well, to hold and carry you. For as long as the storm rages on.
By Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee
I want the feast
I want you here to wash my feet
And stroke my hair
And cover me with a blanket
And I want to sit
And rest my head upon your knee
While you tell me what I need to do
And I want the garden
Full of life and full of love
To walk and laugh
And have you hold me when I cry
And I don’t want the Friday
And I don’t want the pain
And I’m not ready for Sunday
When the sun will rise again
On some kind of new day
Where you live on in me
Where I’m the one
To wash and hold and teach
But I know I can’t have Thursday back
And Friday’s come and gone
And since I can’t do Sunday
And since I can’t face the dawn
I’m just going to stay here
Safe inside the tomb
Wrapped up in a blanket
In the darkness with you
And I know you’ll be with me
As long as I am here
And I don’t roll the stones away
And I don’t face my fear
Of what on Earth to do
With a world made new
New and strange and frightening
Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee recently earned her Ph.D. in social and ecological ethics from Boston University School of Theology. She continues to study intersections of ecofeminism, permaculture ethics, grief, and nature connection. She previously did graduate research on Alzheimer’s Disease and preventive research on Ovarian Cancer. She received a B.Sc. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.A. in Molecular Biology from Harvard University, and an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology. She lives in central Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters, and enjoys gardening, canoeing, learning about medicinal and edible wild plants, and rewriting old hymns to make them more inclusive.