What I Tell Myself

“As the tide washed in, the Dutch Tulip Man faced the ocean: “Conjoiner rejoinder poisoner concealer revelator. Look at it rising up and rising down, taking everything with it.”

–Peter van Houten “An Imperial Affliction”

Here’s what I tell myself. Sometimes it’s necessary to go through the swamp before you reach the road. If you live around here, you know what I mean. The swamp, the marsh is nasty ground full of foul creatures that bear the human race ill will. The road is high ground, and it will save your life. For our purposes, the highway might as well be Kilimanjaro or Everest. The road represents safety, perspective, and the ability to move from point a) to point b) without being mired in muck. You can see what’s coming and going. It’s there, on the pavement, only a few feet above the swamp, where you want to be. At one time or another, we’re called to make the journey outward and upward. Sometimes life pushes us up, at other times we jump. For some reason, the swamp slog is too much to handle. We want to see more than the trees. We know we can go faster than mud encased arms and legs currently carry us. One way or another, we find ourselves moving to the road.

So, I will tell you one more thing: Lent takes us off course. From Ash Wednesday onward we’re wandering in the wilderness, just by the highway, in the swamp. The exit seems obvious. Turn left, go right, and take one step in the right direction. However, the self-evident doesn’t work in Lent. The usual rules don’t apply. We’re stuck for a reason. There’s something about the idea of passive captivity we find appealing. Despite the uncertainty of our environment, Lent, as manifested in the marshy swamp, demands little from our consciences. Lent feels easy. We can hunker down, wait for Hurricane Jesus to blow over, and look for sunrise on Easter morning.  No one will ever realize we missed our chance to feel the fear.  When we see the crowds walking toward the beach, we’ll free ourselves from the slime and blend right in. No one will notice. None the wiser they’ll ever be when they hear our swampy voices proclaim, “He is risen indeed?”

No, I don’t think that’s how it should or ought to go down. We need to figure our way out of the swamp well before Maundy Thursday. Lent is something we do, somewhere we go, and we need the road to get there. You never know, it might rain all day. We could flood. The swamp, for all its apparent benefits, could get much worse. To arrive on time for Easter, finding the road is crucial. Moving on toward the sunrise, looking for the ebb and flow of high tide, that’s where we’re going. At least that’s what I tell myself today.

Richard Lowell Bryant

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