Lent

We have moved north from our home in Rapid City. We’ve also moved west, but it it our position on the north-south measure of the globe that determines the length of the day. Since we moved in the fall, we have experienced days that are just a bit shorter than those in Rapid City. But we are now in Lent, a season that gets its name from the experience of people in the northern hemisphere of the globe. The name Lent means “lengthen” and it is a direct reference to the lengthening days with the changing of seasons. Here in Mount Vernon, our days are lengthening at a quicker rate than they are in Rapid City. Right now, our day are shorter. Today will have 12 minutes more sunlight in Rapid City than in Mount Vernon (10:48:20 vs 10:36:00). By Easter, our situation will have changed and the day will be 9 minutes longer here than in Rapid City (13:07:45 vs 12:58:33). It is a tiny amount and I suspect that we aren’t really noticing the difference very much, but there is enough difference that it is worth noting. At the extremes of the year, the solstices, the difference is more than a half hour. Our days are more than a half hour shorter in the winter and more than a half hour longer during the summer.

Moving west, of course affects the time of sunrise and sunset. The sun rises in the east before it rises in the west. The strange and often political process of setting the boundaries of the time zones resulted in our home in Rapid City being at the very eastern edge of its time zone whereas we are closer to the western edge of our time zone here. If you look at a map of time zones, you can see that most have some point where they are much wider than the distance of an hour’s change. If you travel north, our time zone, Pacific, extends way west of our location up in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

The whole process is even funkier in Alaska, which is a wide state east to west. Officially Alaska’s time is 9 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, but very little of the state lies in that zone. Most of Alaska is actually 10 or 11 hours behind GMT by geography, but the whole state has the same time zone. Time zones are somewhat arbitrary in their designation, but they give a way of having a common measurement of what time it is.

Here in the Pacific Zone, however, near the dividing line between the United States and Canada, we are adjusting to having a bit more of our daylight in the summer and a bit less of it in the winter. The season of Lent will give us a new experience of time, slightly different from what we have experienced while living in other places. The days are lengthening and they are doing so at a rate that is slightly faster than any other place we have lived.

More significant in terms of our perception is that this is our first Lent of being retired. In the life of a working preacher Lent has its own set of disciplines. As we read through the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, we are challenged to confront our own mortality. We walk through the season of Lent in part as a rehearsal for the grief, sorrow and sadness that is a part of human life. I have sometimes mentioned in my sermons that Lent is a rehearsal for the harsh realities of living.

In the midst of all of that, we are still in the season of the Covid pandemic. We first felt the impact of the pandemic a year ago as we journeyed through Lent. We started with face-to-face worship and then the awareness of the disease and how it spread increased as the cases mounted. We began to take precautions. We learned about deep cleaning. We started to restrict our movements and exposure. By Easter, most of our worship was online and our congregation was scattered, with plenty of folks isolating themselves from contact with the community. Now a year later, our isolation and separation continues. Our hunger for contact and group activities grows. Our patience is tested.

Patience, however, is one of the disciples taught by the active practice of Christian rituals and traditions. We learn to wait. Advent teaches us to wait. Lent teaches us to wait. And like many of life’s lessons, we learn through repetition. I have more patience and more practice at waiting than my 10-year-old grandson. He has considerable more patience than our 19-month-old. We learn the art of patience in part by experiencing the passage of time.

Our perception changes. As I approach my 68th birthday, it seems to me that the years are going by much more quickly than was the case when I was younger. Our grandson, who just celebrated his 10th birthday has to wait one tenth of a lifetime before his next birthday. For his cousin a year is more than half a lifetime. My fraction is much smaller.

We will all experience Lent in different ways this year. Each year is unique. The lessons of the season, however, continue to be the same. We learn patience. We learn to accept mortality. We learn the journey of grief. We understand that sorrow and sadness are real parts of our lives. And, hopefully, we also learn the lessons of Easter. Death is not the final word on our human existence. That lesson, however, comes in its own time. For now we wait.

As we wait the signs of spring mark the passage of time for us. Our mild coastal climate means that there are trees budding and bulbs pushing up their shoots. The six weeks of Lent will be dramatic in terms of blossoms and new growth. By Easter, in early April this year, we’ll be in full bloom here, quite different from our old home where we didn’t dare put out our tomato plants until the end of May.

Through it all, we are all one year older than we were last Lent. Time goes on. With a bit of luck and a bit of perseverance we might even learn something new as we make our journey this year.