Why I'm laughing in the face of Lent

Self-portrait this is of wind-styled Yoda ears. Taken in a silly moment.

This Lent, I gave up penance.

This is not my normal course for the season. Usually by this time I have aired out the hairshirt, polished the whip, and settled in for a long 40 days of repentance and self-mortification. (Apparently the Church doesn't consider falling off the treadmill mortifying enough.) The goal: to awaken recognition of my own sins, seek forgiveness, and start anew, underscored by a deep craving for whatever I gave up.

Not this year, though. Not in the midst of work stress, life decisions, election year news cycles, and not one but two cancer diagnoses in the family within a week of each other. Pass the chocolate AND the wine; surely God doesn't expect me to give up lifelines at a time like this.

But I'm not walking through this Lent empty-handed. When I put down penance, I picked up wonder. Because I forget, you know? I forget just how plain wonderful life can be sometimes.

I forget that daffodils can bloom two months early and that snow makes a quiet rushing noise when it falls and that mountain air cleans you out.

I forget that acting like a five-year-old takes a literal 20 years off your life and that the most unexpected people make unexpected jokes and that board games work because you're sitting around a table with others.

I forget that dinner parties are best planned with a fellow foodie and that writing in the quiet morning carries you to the evening and that just when you think you're forgotten, everyone remembers you in their own way.

Life is packed with wonder. And during Lent, I'm convinced it's just as important to ponder it as we do penance, as the gentle yin to an aggressive yang. To walk with a God who gives us wonder in spite of our imperfection -- isn't that as much an indication of grace and love as anything else?

Laughable, the Church might say. Stop smiling and go put on your hairshirt.

Laughable indeed, I reply, because that's what all this wonder drives me to do: laugh, grin, sigh, cheer. Maybe it's the improv lessons taking hold. I see fun a lot more places now. I see happy. I see good.

So there you have it. This Lent I'm smiling up -- even on days I really don't want to -- and concentrating on being wonder-filled. That's what I need right now, and there but for the grace of God laugh I.

Prayer #202: The Wonder Year

Put stars in my eyes and under my feet. Turn my specs the deepest shade of rose. Knock me silly, gift me giddy. Let me marvel. Let me stare. Let me love unabashed what You have given me.