This is the eighth reflection in the Missio Lent series. Read the rest here.
It is early morning when I head into the living room via the coffee pot in the kitchen. On autopilot, I take a tall mug out of the cupboard. (I like the red or green ones better than the brown.) A long pour, some half-and-half, and a tiny scoop of stevia swirl into the mug. I grab my morning medication and take my cup, heavy and warm, down the hall to the living room.
I see it again, the wooden wreath and candles, and remember as if years have passed since yesterday morning. Every morning, the simple circle is a persistent reminder of the journey towards Easter.
Each morning, I move the man with the cross on his back one candle further; one candle deeper into the mystery that is Lent. I light the candles, watching each day how the circle of light grows brighter and more complete. Sitting on the floor, I can feel the warmth on my cheeks.
I did not grow up observing Ash Wednesday or Lent. Easter was a joyful celebration, geared to the risen Christ. I did not get an Easter dress or white gloves or new shoes, and there was definitely no Easter candy. My mom was not critical about it, but she believed that Easter was purely about Jesus.
It was not until I was an adult, church-planting in Spain with my husband, that we began to explore the season of Lent and how it could enrich Easter.
As a church, we wrote our confessions out on little slips of paper on Ash Wednesday. We’d burn them down in my big green clay covered dish and then douse the ashes with olive oil. The oily smear of repentance and remorse felt sacred on my forehead.
I began to give things up for Lent. Facebook, blogs (both the reading and writing of), wine, or chocolate. Lent felt like a blissful dose of discipline that I could never quite find within myself during the rest of the year. For Lent, of course. For Lent, it was holy work, and it drew me in to a place of quiet relief that I truly did not have to do this on my own.
At some point, I began to read Ann Voskamp’s blog “A Holy Experience” regularly and saw there the wooden wreath with candles that could be used to mark the days of both Advent and Lent. I ordered one and had it shipped to my friend’s house in Colorado.
In the summer of 2010, we left Spain and moved to Chicago. That first Advent back in the United States, I unwrapped the wreath, filled it with emergency candles from the dollar store, and we began to use it to mark the season.
When we bought our house in 2012, we arranged our living room with a round coffee table in the center, and this became the perfect place to use the wreath.
I began to pick up something new at Lent instead of just dropping things. One year I took a photo of the wreath and its lit candles every day and made it my profile picture on Facebook. It was a tether for me, so that even as I went about my day, I was visually reminded of my Lenten discipline any time I got on Facebook.
After a time, I noticed that it was speaking to other people as well. My wall was peppered with comments like these:
“Where did you get this, Heather? I really like it and think it’s a great reminder of the season.”
“I am loving these Heather, tracking my own lent through this image, thank you!”
“Thank you for telling me where to get this! I LOVE mine and used it during Advent and now at Lent!”
“I tend to think of the days leading up to Good Friday as getting ever-increasingly-darker… But all of the candles lit up on your ‘Lent Wreath’ remind me that although it would appear to be ‘dark,’ in reality the Light of the World is being revealed. Interesting.”
“Thanks for posting these… I feel like I’m journeying with you (and need to get one of those…what are they called?)”
“It’s that time of year again when Heather posts her cool Lent Lights! Yay!”
“Heather, where did you get your lovely advent/lent candle? I love watching it every year.”
“Ooohh, yeah, the circle wreath thing again!”
All this interaction around my photos not only deepened my own experience of Lent; it made me feel so much more connected to my church community around the world.
My days and weeks are full of routines. Morning prayers at the breakfast table with my family, the 10-minute walk to work, sometimes home for lunch and back again at the end of the day, grocery shopping and pizza on Friday nights, church service on Sunday morning. These routines are the fabric that make up the story of my life. This particular morning ritual — lighting the candles, taking a photo, then using the candle snuffer to change the light — is an extra bit of beauty layered over the solid base of my daily, weekly, and monthly life. I take on the burden of it joyfully, reverently, like a soft blanket on a chilly day.
I am so grateful that I discovered Lent and the beautiful strength of its disciplines. My life will be forever richer for these flickering candles in the quiet soft dark of morning, the smell and feel of melting wax and the whispering ascent of the snuffed light, which is not gone, only changed.
After decades of living overseas (both growing up and as an adult,) Heather Cady is happily putting down roots in Chicago with her husband, Troy; kids, Meaghan and Nicolas, and their Beagle “toddler,” Lexi. She enjoys living in an ethnically and richly diverse community. In the warmer months, you’ll often find her on the front porch, sharing life with whomever may wander by.
Photos: Heather Cady