I’m a fan of Ash Wednesday and Lent, I truly am. But, rural folks don’t need a reminder that we are going die, and the Lenten disciplines, including fasts, photo-a-day challenges, special studies, extra readings, often feel like adding to the noise. Instead, we need an Ash Wednesday and that reminds us that some seasons end, but we carry over the fruit of those seasons. Whether it the season changes due to death, shifting in church and community life, or simply the shift from winter to spring, we get the opportunity to remember and honor those past seasons.
As we honor the past seasons, we live into the new seasons irrupting around us. In my part of the world, this is daffodils popping up in the leftover leaves and brush, people doing the work of pruning the trees, turning the fields, and cleaning up their homes. It may also include the presence of Reese’s eggs at the Dollar General, the presence of seeds and bulbs at the Feed and Seed, and of course, forsythia/yellow bell blossoms all everywhere.
Of course, rural life is regularly accused of living in the past, speaking too fondly of the glory days, and being suspicious of new ideas. This is true sometimes, but I propose rural communities have the disciplines they need to honor the seasons past and still hope for the new seasons that are emerging around them. These disciplines can easily include preparing the church and community for the new season during Lent. Just as fields are tilled, trees are pruned, and materials are gathered in agriculture, rural communities can prepare themselves and places for the new season in their lives.
This can include working to start new and revive relationships with neighbors through visiting, connecting with people you haven’t spoken too in a while, or reaching out to meet new people at events. This might also include going through church and community resources and spaces and thinking about what can be reused, what can be repurposed, and what we can donate or dispose. And this can also include planning for the coming season, and imagining what God will use our people, place, and heritage to create. All of this allows for new ideas, ministries, and relationships to find a place in the gardens of our already fertile communities.
These disciplines can come in the form of encouraging opportunities to connect with neighbors (and training people how to have a conversation if they need it). They may take the form going through home, church, and community, while thinking about how we can reuse, repurpose, or remove. It, of course, involves spending time in prayer, contemplation, and discussion about what the next season might hold for us. All of these claim Lenten disciplines and rural practices, but do so in a way that allow for it to make sense.
So, this season, consider adding in visitation, exploration, innovation, and contemplation into your rural Lenten practice.
(Also, the picture is of Ash that I dropped on my shoe, but I guess it could also symbolize the mud and other stuff we have to deal with as the new seasons comes, and that we need the right tools for the job.)