Lenctening Days

No, that’s not a typo.

Recently I learned that the word “Lent” {today–Ash Wednesday–is the first day of Lent} comes from the Old English ‘lencten,’ which sounds a lot like “lengthen” and, not incidentally, was the Old English word for Spring–that time when the days, well, lengthen.

Despite the admiration I’ve always had for traditional Lenten disciplines, this time of year–when I forget to start dinner on time because the growing evening light tricks me, when I’m drawn from sleep by the unexpected brightness of the morning sun–this time of year tends to make me a bit giddy. Meditating on dust returning to dust seems opposite to how I feel when Spring is, well, lenctening. Springing.

But maybe that’s reasonable. Lent is the season where deadness springs to life: snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils cautiously raise their green and brilliant heads, stoic strawberry leaves unfold and tentatively sent out runners, tired, swollen goats bend to release their burdens in bringing forth light-footed young.

At this time everything in nature seems to be stretching and yawning awake after a long sleep, lively after months of sluggish drowsing.

Maybe Lent serves as a counterpoint to all this; a reminder that even as the grass “flourishes and is renewed” in the morning, “in the evening it fades and withers.” That God alone is everlasting.

It’s a sobering thought, but somehow, a joyful one. And so I hope this Lent not to curtail or cut back but to lencten: to take joy and satisfaction in God and in God’s gift of each lengthening, springing, light-filled moment.

Overly cute bunny gnawing a strawberry leaf. I can't help myself.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
   so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
   and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us,
   and prosper for us the work of our hands.

Psalm 90, NRSV

3 thoughts on “Lenctening Days

  1. Is it too strange to admit that I got almost giddy with your paragraph on the etymology of the word “Lent”? If so, does the fact that I actually read all of the Oxford Companion to the English Language (cover to cover, all 1213 pages) shed light on the matter? I confess I’m a word study geek. Thanks for the chance to indulge a bit here, Rachel.

    Anyway, about Lent itself. Here’s my take on it. I tend to use this season to look forward to Easter (or Resurrection Sunday as one of my friends puts it), but not through a discipline of denial. Rather, I find that it’s kind of like when I was a kid and some special day was approaching, like a birthday or Christmas or a visit from a favorite aunt. I get more excited as Easter Day approaches, and I also find that I am actually celebrating the resurrection in various moments of the days that lead up to the day of celebration itself.

    I just can’t bring myself to go into some sort of self-imposed period of denial when I know that we are about to get to the day that celebrates the best Day in history.


  2. I look forward to the “period of denial” with the same verve as a word study geek about to read the etymology of the word “lent”.

    It is refreshing to fast or do-without for the joy of it, rather than for my weight, or my health, or for a “cause” or a protest.

    For me the season of restraint is motivated by understanding that the dissonance of doing without turns into the resonance of having all in all. I like to use the music allusion because it best describes savoring what is not yet full because it invests anticipation for fulfillment. Another musical allusion is anticipating a theme which has been introduced in the beginning is variously translated through the piece and which finishes with conviction at the end. We don’t hate the whole piece until we get to hear the theme again, but we’re beautifully agitated towards it until hearing it is just about the only thing our hearts could think to want. At risk of being obnoxiously, predictably pretentious I offer Beethoven’s 9th symphony…

    Lent does not contrast with Easter; it crescendoes to it.

    all of this and more, IMHO

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