My son built a cross–a ten foot high, six foot wide Lenten cross and stand.  This is remarkable because he is seventeen and typical.  His room is a mess, he grunts instead of saying hello, he is far nicer to other people than he is to his mother, and only prays before meals when I’m watching.  Because he is a very private person, I really have no idea about the depth of his spiritual life.  When I bring up faith or social justice (or just about anything) I am guaranteed that he’ll take the opposing view.  Like I said, he’s a typical kid.

And yet he built that cross.  True, it was his eagle scout project and served a higher purpose than just making our liturgical minister happy, but he could have built a bench or planter box or cut a trail or any number of other eagle-worthy projects.

It is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.  It was constructed from 100-year old redwood timbers: the floor joists of a parishioner’s remodeled home.  The heavy wood had to be hollowed out so that when we pass it above the congregation on Good Friday, we don’t crush a senior citizen.  It also had to be sanded, stained, and varnished while keeping the patina of age.  During the hollowing out stage, my son and the other young men who assisted on the project, wrote their names on the inside of the cross.  These names will never be seen, but I like to think that when the congregation prays over the cross, these boys will get a little boost of grace.

The liturgical minister asked my son and me to assist during Good Friday services.  Part of the job is passing the cross, but the other part is to prostrate ourselves before it–five minutes of full face-on the floor prostration with the deacon while the congregation watches.  I anticipated that when he found out about the prostration, he’d decline. Instead, he’s going to do it–no hesitation.  It’s amazing where you find grace.  Sometimes it is in wood and work.  Sometimes it is hidden like the names in that cross, or inside the silent heart of a teenage boy.


On Wednesday I will go to mass. The priest will remind me that lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and alms giving.  And then a lay minister will dip her thumb into small pot of dark ashes moistened with holy water and make the sign of the cross on my forehead.  The accompanying blessing used to be, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return.”   This Wednesday, I will most likely hear, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.”  While I appreciate the positive note in the latter blessing, I miss the verbal reminder of my mortality. For me, lent has always been about mortality.

LentIt is forty days of remembering that I live in a world of touch and smell, acute pain and profound joy.  And that might be all there is–without Jesus.  Jesus said there is something more, just out of sight yet within reach.  He proclaimed a love that promises a life eternal.  It is a mystery too deep, really, for me to fathom, but I believe it in my bones.  I don’t just feel, I know there is no ending in us.  That spark that makes us human– undetectable by science (human DNA is not all that unique, nor are our talents for tool making, problem solving, and speech)–that spark of humanity is an everlasting flame.  We, the thinking, tasting we, will return to dust, but that other we, the divine spark we, will live forever.  I know this.

That surety is the gift of Easter. So why then lent?  For me, it’s a time to remember who and what I am.  Deep thoughts have a difficult time competing with writing weekly reports, feeding a family, reviewing homework, and balancing a checkbook.  Those ashes on my forehead say stop! Remember you and those you love are mortal. Cherish them.  Look at your life.  The clock’s ticking honey, judged by the standards of eternity are you doing what you ought?

As certain as I am that death holds no evil, lent is a reminder to love more, cherish more, give more.  And those things, for me, make a good lent.