Lent is, strangely, one of my favorite times of year. Sure, as far as the Episcopal Church year goes, it’s a downer. Somber reflection, self-denial, and cold, miserable weather are typically associated with it, and we all just want to get to the chocolate-bunny-strewn finish line.
Years ago, the priest at my church, Father Sam, changed my perception of Lent with two key endorsements. One was during a sermon (see—I can pay attention to those) in which he remarked that, instead of “giving up something” for Lent, perhaps “taking something on” was a good idea. Try something new. Think about the world in a different way. This was a relief—my husband and I had embraced the "Catholic-lite" Episcopal Church a few years earlier after childhoods spent in more casual Protestantism, but I was clear from the get-go that, if giving up chocolate or filet mignon for weeks at a time every year was an expectation for me...sorry, padre—that's a dealbreaker.
During that same Lenten season, when many churchgoers were focused on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ as the Lenten film of choice, I overheard Father Sam extol the virtues of a smaller film I loved but had not previously thought of as a "Lenten film" per se: Chocolat. That movie, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, views the Lenten season from a different angle.
Set in 1950s France, Juliette Binoche plays a mother (importantly, an unmarried and not Catholic mother) with ninja-like chocolate skills living in a quaint, very Catholic town where the religious, social, and governmental structures are orchestrated by a severe and judgmental nobleman. When the cumulative effects of that nobleman's narrow worldview wreak havoc on the townspeople's lives, the young priest in town has had enough. Père Henri’s Easter sermon begins,
I'm not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord's divine transformation? Not really, no. I don't want to talk about His divinity. I'd rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His kindness, His tolerance. Listen, here's what I think: I think that we can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and whom we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and whom we include.
This statement has become, to me, the best explanation of what we are supposed to be about as human beings, and as such, it is key in my philosophy about education.
“I think we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and whom we include.” If I have had an overarching thesis statement for my work with students at school, at home, in my church, or on the streets for all of these years, that’s it. Lent is my annual reminder of this mission statement. I am much more consistent in following this advice with children versus with adults (and I’m fine with that—I'll worry about the adults later), and thinking about those words actually does give me strength in tough times and courage in speaking up for children and their rights.
Thus, every Lent, I take something on (usually reading something in a particular genre or by authors that I have previously excluded from my repertoire), and I watch Chocolat.
The books themselves have involved everything from a Johnny Cash biography to books by the Dalai Lama to the poetry of Seamus Heaney to the quiet reflection of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. This year, I’ve decided that I have neglected some pieces of young adult literature for far too long. That’s what I’m taking on. Here’s my stack:
Wish me luck in tackling it all by April.
For the past two weeks, this blog has had an incredible amount of traffic, and my posts on the county education budget have spurred some debate, a great deal of goodwill, and a little nastiness, too. I’m hoping that, going forward, in the spirit of Chocolat (or whatever you believe in), everyone reading this piece thinks about something in a new way, considers a perspective one has not considered before, reconsiders a vote one thought one was sure about, rethinks being silent about something that needs a voice and demands to be heard.
Take something on.
Some people view Lent as a time to circle the philosophical wagons, to reinforce what they already believe with some degree of relative certainty. For me, Lent is different. Lent compel me to force myself to examine new perspectives. Considering a different viewpoint in whatever form does not detract from the strength of my belief in what is important to me. On the contrary, examining something new keeps me strong and willing to stick my neck out for my beliefs because I am constantly testing them for myself.
It’s cold outside, and I’m tired and eating a lot of carbs. I just want to “couch it out” and hang out under a blanket. But I can’t. I have to take something on. Think about the world differently. Keep rolling with the new. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!