When rain falls onto the grid of Manhattan- it swells- it gathers- it pours.
This poses a problem for on-foot-commuters like me. The corner of every intersection is like a small pond that one must jump over to get to the curb on the other side.
It rained last week... hard. My first thought when I walked out of the apartment that particular morning was, "Great! This sucks! Rain! The streets are flooded again! There goes the start of a good morning!" I clenched my jaw, put my head down and trudged forward.
All in all, between 37th Street and Grand Central Terminal I traversed 12 pond-sized puddles. (My Chuck’s did not fare well and my socks got pretty soaked).
After arriving at Grand Central I shook myself off like a wet dog under the overhang on Lexington. I was a wreck. This day had gotten off to a very bad start. So (like any responsible adult) I started to analyze myself, picking apart my emotional equilibrium with probing questions.
"Why am I so angry right now?"
"Why do the rain and water make me so angry?"
"Why does jumping over puddles get me so upset?"
"Is it because it slows me down?"
"Is it because it takes more effort?"
"Is it because my feet are cold?"
"Is it because the world isn't working as I think it should?"
The answer: A resounding, “Yes!” to the whole list.
As I stood there in squishy socks thinking about all the reasons I had to be upset, it occurred to me that not a single one of the reasons were of any deep or eternal significance. In fact, they were all very trivial reasons to be having a terrible morning. So (as we all have to do from time to time) I reached deeply inside of my soul and pushed the "reset" button.
As I lifted my eyes and looked across the street, I began to see that the rain was really very beautiful - kids jumping in the puddles - parents snapping photos of their kids enjoying the puddles - younger folks helping older folks and disabled folks over (or through) the puddles- the sky giving the city a free (and much needed) bath- clearing out the smog and soot. Beauty was all around, and I didn’t even see it. I had chosen not to when I stepped out of my building that morning.
I realized that I was the problem- not the puddles.
The puddles were neutral.
I had chosen to see them as an ugly obstacle to a good morning.
"Lent" (liberally defined) is a faith-season where believers are asked to give up an item of "normalcy" to see that there is great Beauty and Presence in having our routine disrupted. It’s the idea that when we empty ourselves in an area- we see that God was always there in that space wanting us to be aware of him, but we were crowding him out with our compulsive insertions. (Seminarians and scholars, feel free to destroy me for defining Lent as I have).
Lent is about “waking up” to the idea that God is all around, within and without, in the basement of every distressing experience, waiting to be noticed and drawn up out of the dark.
If you are a person of faith, I would like to encourage you to look at Lent differently this year (especially if Lent to you is like the rain and puddles that are upending the convenience of your faith-commute).
Could it be that the ugly inconveniences are beautiful gifts of soul-development?
Perhaps Lent (and puddles) are God’s invitation to immerse yourself in something that has the potential to fashion your routine-human-experience into something far more than just routinely-human.