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A jasper necklace and the walk into Lent

A while back I mentioned I wanted to write a little something about the lovely necklace given to me by one of my Yaya sisters, Cinda Willigar, and now seems as good a time as any. It is a picture jasper stone on a sterling silver chain. Picture jasper is a form of brown jasper that has picked up “inclusions” of iron and other minerals, giving it the appearance of a landscape. It was highly valued by the ancients who believed it connected them to the energies of Mother Earth and contained secret stories from the past. Oh my! When I read that, I had to smile. What better gift for a feminist storyteller? :-)

When Cinda gave it to me, she said the brown and tan striations reminded her of a seascape, but the instant I saw it, I felt swept into the desert, the dunes and the barrenness.

The desert has a special place in my personal spirituality. I’ve never been to a desert, (although a trip to New Mexico is definitely at the top of my bucket list), but in my heart I think of it as a place of letting go everything but “the one needful thing”; of stripping away all pretense; of honest reflection; and of confrontation of the darkness within.

February 18th is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent wherein some Christian churches remember Christ’s sojourn in the desert for forty days before the beginning of his public ministry. In my Catholic days, I hated Lent. The fasts were strict (even for men like my father who worked in the mines), and the observances austere. We were made to remember our sinfulness, our mortality, and our part in the death of Jesus. We were expected to make some sort of sacrifice for the forty days, give something up. For smokers, it was often cigarettes. For kids, usually candy. It seemed endless, empty, and designed to instill guilt and fear in the faithful. I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

So I am a bit surprised to find that this year I’m actually looking forward to Lent, and not just because the Presbyterian Church’s observance is far less rigorous. I think it has something to do with the necklace. Picture jasper was also prized and named by the ancients as “the rain bringer,” used in rituals during times of drought. When I took it out of the package, the silver chain poured into my hand, flowing out from the stone, like streams in the desert, another powerful biblical image of God’s presence, provision, and trustworthiness. I will go into the desert willingly this Lent, prepared, even anxious, to pare away those things that no longer serve. I will look at my darkness with openness, and if it cannot be removed (and I suspect it isn’t meant to be), then I will pray to carry it with grace in a way that will do no harm to me or others. And I will trust that even though it seems a barren land, my thirst will be met, streams will flow.

I intend to wear the jasper necklace every one of the forty days. Indeed, I think that’s one of the reasons it was given to me when it was. A sacramental. A reminder.

And an invitation.

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8 Comments

  1. kathleen
    Posted February 2, 2015 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    Wow how insightful and beautiful. Amazing, when I was doing my chaplaincy training several of the others in the course were Roman Catholic and I really got caught up in the preparation of the whole Lent Easter celebration. (wrong word but you know what I mean) .So Lent has a new meaning for me also. A time of looking into me and coming to grips with who I am and what God expects me to be. Thanks for reminding me of the upcoming Lenten season. I don’t like to dark music of Lent but the transition into Easter music is wonderful.

    • Penny-Anne
      Posted February 3, 2015 at 1:31 am | Permalink

      So it sounds like you’ve had a handle on this Lenten thing for some time now, Kathleen. I envy you. As I told one of my FB buddies, this is the first time I’ve ever wanted to do anything for Lent besides get it over with as quickly as possible. :-) I’m very interested to see how this will play out. But I’m with you on the Easter music – glorious! Just glorious! Thanks for your comments, Kathleen.

  2. Michelle Harris
    Posted February 2, 2015 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    You have such a beautiful way of expressing yourself. “I will look at my darkness with openness, and if it cannot be removed (and I suspect it isn’t meant to be), then I will pray to carry it with grace in a way that will do no harm to me or others.” My curiosity is piqued by your suspicion. Can you share why you believe your darkness isn’t meant to be removed?

    • Penny-Anne
      Posted February 3, 2015 at 1:27 am | Permalink

      Michelle, thanks for your comment. I suspect my darkness gives me strength, keeps me deadly honest about myself, and sustains my creativity. I think it is a drive that needs to be kept under control or rather safely expressed, for if it’s allowed free rein damage will result, maybe irreparable damage. Think Christ with a whip. But the same thing could occur if it’s suppressed, and if eliminated altogether I fear I would stagnate creatively, have no drive for self-improvement, or the anger to propel me towards justice and integrity. At least, that’s what I suspect. I’ll have forty days to see if I’m correct. :-) Thanks again for stopping by my dear!

  3. Pam Patton
    Posted February 3, 2015 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    Penny-Anne, What a timely gift for you to cherish during this season. I love the insights you received—-an insight into God’s love, care, and faithfulness in speaking to you and providing for you in every season. I love what you said about stripping away those things that no longer serve. That provides a special meaning and purpose for me personally regarding things that must go. Thanks for your gentle encouragement!! Pam ????

    • Penny-Anne
      Posted February 3, 2015 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      You are most welcome, Pam! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Always deeply appreciated. Stay blessed. :-)

  4. Michelle Harris
    Posted February 3, 2015 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Thanks for taking time to explain. I love your response!

    • Penny-Anne
      Posted February 3, 2015 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      And I love questions like yours that make me think! Thank you, Michelle.

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