Lent has been difficult this year. It is not helped by the perpetual sunny 70 degree weather. If one is called to sacrifice, beautiful days do not help. Today I was driving back from the southside with some clients and saw the lake on the right and the throngs of people who cherish our city’s small ocean walking, running, biking, laughing…..throwing modesty out the door as Chicagoans are prone to do in these early warm days. And I thought I need to be back on the lake. Then I thought I will do it during the time of Easter or brilliant hot ordinary time when it is more appropriate. Still I cannot help to want the lake.There was the time, lakes defined my life. Usually small ones nestled in Wisconsin or Ohio or Erie or Michigan. (How wonderful were the little sailors in my life.) Everything I learned of life, love, and happiness was found on the water. I remember taking my children onto the water for cruises, the conversations on a moonlit dock in Ohio, my teenage years at Put-in-Bay, watching the sunset next to native mounds just north of the Illinois borer. (Yes life is grace.) I keep reminding myself of this, but I think it is more appropriate to wait until Easter for that reminder, that time I call the eruption of joy when I always feel a certain vigor ready to shout the summer is at hand. I can’t think of the lake now, not during sacrifice time. But I do.
I have no reason to want the water. For the moment, the stories to which it is attached exist more in memory than the potent present. Still I do want it. I keep thinking I will find grace there, or rather grace will find me. Of course grace has found me next to the ocean, in the mountains, in the vastness of prairie and on city streets. Grace always seems to find me. Why God, did you make such a beautiful world and fill it with such wonderful creatures? Don’t you know how hard it is to resist the infinite? (The Calvinists are right….Sovereign God, Irresistible Grace.) Of course I could ask why is Lent sunny and 70.
I do not know why this year I think more of the lakes. Maybe it is because it is the geography of the beautiful, by which I mean it is the geography that makes the creature beautiful. Maybe it is because it is best enjoyed at the end of a hot day in summer when families, those in love, and friends return from the workaday world to the company of one another during that short time of year when stories never seem to end. Of course it is followed by the softening and sweet hue of autumn and finally the death time of winter, but you don’t think of that in the summer.
Maybe I am only rushing Easter. This year I want Easter more than most, though I have been remiss in the self- discipline of Lent, even as I have been more reminded of its reality. The lake reminds me of this Eastertide. We are born from water and reborn there. Our Christmas and our Easter both start with the liquid element. And who doesn’t like Christmas and Easter and in my case, especially Easter.
But I guess I am rushing rebirth. Very soon the thousands will be brought to stand and immerse themselves in water. They will proclaim to the tempter and the winter…. you lost. You tried to keep every good, intentioned, beautiful, and holy thing buried, but you lost. Just as the flood drowned the pharaoh’s army as it let the righteous portage its forgiving river, the lake will bring gentle people back to its shore. They will stand at the fire’s edge and know that a good man can’t be kept down. They will look at an empty grave perplexed. Then in the warm days that follow they will be brought over and over again to the shore where they will picnic and take their boats out. As Isaiah proclaimed “there should be no harm on all my holy mountain,” here they will stand wedged between the great skyscrapers and the lake saying, “tonight there will be no violence in all of the city.”
For these there will not be. Holy geography has made them beautiful. They have been brought through the tempest and for them the sea has been stilled and they have been washed in “the flood from His pierced side.” They will stand at the water’s edge and celebrate having been given back their lives. Soon and very soon I can think of these things and the lake, for the flood is merciful. When this happens I will make my way to the lake and the water of which of late I have not stopped thinking.
Note: Picture is of Lake Delaware in Ohio, a small but significant place for me