‘Let it learn in sackcloth colors to thrive
on desire alone.’
—Kimberly Johnson, ‘Ash Garden’
What if what ails us is that we are not hungry enough? Hear me out.
This week the Christian calendar turns to the season of Lent, a time when Christians have traditionally reexamined their lives in light of Jesus’ journey to the cross. What does it mean that the love Christ proclaimed is inseparable from the story of his suffering and death? How can I embody that love in my life today? These are the kinds of questions we ask as we turn to practices like prayer, fasting, and sacrificial giving.
It’s also what we say we’re doing when we give up something for Lent. Soda, chocolate, TV, social media—there are all kinds of things people forswear when Ash Wednesday rolls around. But I wonder.
I wonder if the habit of giving up things that we might very well give up for other good reasons (health, mental sanity, etc.) is really getting us closer to what we need—a hunger for God. Because most of us will go back to those things we give up come Easter sunrise, hopefully with a new relationship to them, but will we have created the space for the desire? Psalm 42 doesn’t celebrate the deer panting for living water for no reason.
In her Ash Wednesday poem, ‘Ash Garden,’ the poet Kimberly Johnson uses her spring garden as a metaphor for the season. As her neighbors are doing everything possible to make their lawns green and lush, she takes a blowtorch to hers, scorching the earth down to dust and ashes. She knows that there are some plants, like fireweed, that will only grow in such conditions. They need the parched ground to break open in brilliant color. So she gives what they need—an environment of scarcity. “Let it learn in sackcloth colors,” she says, “to thrive/ on desire alone.”
What am I giving up for Lent? Pretense, I hope. There’s no sense pretending that I’ve got it all together and I have all that I need to flourish. For that I need a love beyond, a love supreme. I need a hunger for God that is too easily pushed out by the lesser goods of the world. I want to give myself to others in ways that express the love that claimed me in baptism. I want to spend more time listening to the God who woos.
I want to be more hungry.