Making the case for joy

Alms. Fasting. Hair shirts (for the truly medieval among us). It's all part and parcel with Lent, the season of Easter preparation kicked off today with Ash Wednesday.

But, as the priest pointed out in his sermon today, most of us already feel like we're living a penitential life. The winter ... and the news ... and the economy ... have all been bitter. We, by extension, are bitter. So the prospect of entering a formal period of hardship and deprivation does appear just to be more of the same.

Unless, of course, we choose to make it otherwise. Turn the season on its ear. Opt for optimism. Celebrate Easter early in our faiths, our work, and our relationships.

Because the priest also said that such Lenten periods, formal or not, create an opportunity to smile and rejoice. The good stuff isn't on its way -- it's already here. We've all proven we can make it this far in one piece, so let's take a moment to applaud and celebrate that fact.

I'm not saying we can rest. As a family friend said to my father recently, "I'm working harder for less money. But we're in a recession. This is no time to be tired."

What I am saying is that we can allow ourselves to be happy. It's ok to trumpet the small victories. It's ok to feel content, even when others around you may not be. It's ok to acknowledge that life goes in cycles, and while we're on the bottom now, we'll one day be on top again.

I appreciated the reminder to smile today. It's all too easy to droop when weighed down with mortgages, rents, job searches, and general insecurity (not to mention with a big dark cross etched on my forehead -- a symbol of all things sacrificial).

So instead I walked home in the warming sun and smelled spring in the air. I called some old friends I've been neglecting. And while Ash Wednesday is not typically a day you bust out chocolate cake and champagne at 2 pm, Susannah and I are doing exactly that to celebrate the not-so-small victories in our lives.

There will always be need and reason for alms, fasting, and hair shirts. But today, I am anticipating a glorious spring and all that feeling joyful will bring.

Photo by santacrewsgirl