By Stephen Crippen
Q: How come during Lent we can’t say Alle—
A: Don’t say it!
Q: Sheesh. Calm down. Why can’t we say Alle—
A: I said don’t say it!!
Q: Okay okay! What should I say instead?
A: I don’t know. How about watermelon.
Q: Fine, have it your way. Why can’t we say [watermelon] during Lent?
A: Because Lent is partly about fasting.
Q: What does this have to do with food? It’s just a word.
A: In Lent we eat more simply, but we also fast the eyes, and the ears…and we fast in a more general, spiritual sense. We stop saying [watermelon] because it’s our most joyful song of praise.
Q: But every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection. Aren’t we supposed to be joyful? Isn’t this just a dour, stern old rule that we can throw out?
A: Well, lots of people only have time to come to church on Sundays, so even though Sundays are not technically part of Lent, most people would not participate in Lent very much if we didn’t make changes on Sundays too. And even if you’re keeping Lent in an intense way, it won’t feel right to have Sundays stand in such stark contrast. And there are at least two other reasons to stop saying [watermelon] for a while.
Q: Do tell.
A: For one thing, to stop doing a thing increases your appreciation of the thing. If we shouted Watermelon! any old time we wanted to, it would be less special.
A: Don’t interrupt.
Q: I will if I want to! But the problem is that when you tell me I can’t say it, I think it a lot more. It’s like telling me to not think of the color green. If you tell me not to, I’ll start thinking about green like crazy.
A: Right. But that just proves my point. By the time Easter Vigil comes around, you’ll be bursting with desire to say [watermelon].
Q: Okay fine. So what’s the other reason?
A: The other reason—and probably the best reason—is that everyone, at one time or another, goes through a period when they don’t want to say [watermelon]. Our spiritual life needs to make room for grief, for waiting, for quiet reflection, for time and space to turn our lives around. And time for remorse, if that’s what’s called for.
Q: But won’t visitors come to church and think we’re having a funeral?
A: I don’t know. Maybe. But if they watch and listen more closely they’ll also discover that we are practicing an adult spirituality—often enough with children as our best teachers—that makes room for darkness, silence, sobriety, and solemnity. And if they hang in there with us, in a few weeks they’ll get to ring bells and shout Watermelon! to their heart’s content.
Q: (whispering) Alle—
A: Knock it off!!
Stephen is a therapist and postulant to the Diaconate. You can find his personal blog here.