Early on in the book Anne of Green Gables, Anne asks Matthew Cuthbert if he’s every experienced anything thrilling. (Or something like that. I cannot quote directly as I am not at home at present and anyway, my copy of said book is packed up for the imminent move to my Paul’s.) Matthew replies that he supposes uncovering those white grubs in the ground kind of gives him a thrill. This is not exactly the answer Anne is looking for, nor the kind of thrill she is talking about.
For a while, every time someone asked me, in regard to my wedding, “So, are you getting excited?” I had a really hard time answering, not because I have or had any qualms about marrying my Paul, but more because it’s come so quickly and there’s so much to do, there hasn’t really been a whole lot of space for emotion. Then a few weeks ago, the two of us went to his (almost mine) town offices to apply for a marriage license. We sat in that little back room filling in paperwork and I suddenly realised I was on the verge of hyperventilating. “I think,” I ventured quietly, “I’m sort of freaking out about this.” Then I looked at him and realised he was even paler than I was. “Pass the paper bag,” he said. We were both reliving and reacting to our own Pasts, and although our reasons for blanching were different, and also although our resolve to pledge our lives to each other wasn’t really shaken, it was still a moment to give us both pause. “Well,” I thought to myself, “I guess I’m excited now. Although I don’t think this is what people meant when they asked.”
Now I can unreservedly say I’m excited, which I guess is probably good, since The Day is a week away. Like–this time next week, I’ll be a married lady and chowing down on salmon at a colonial inn with my husband and our families. Yesterday I dropped off the rest of the payment at said colonial inn, and made the placecards and dropped those off, too. Oscar, even though he’s not in the wedding or coming on the honeymoon, got a haircut. I have a pretty decent trousseau, I think (augmented as recently as Thursday night, thanks to some of my girlfriends and another surprise party). I filled in a change of address form. And there’s Paul. My Paul, who all this is for, pretty much. And I’m happy.
Lent started two days ago. I’m not and never have been a Roman Catholic, but I find the disciplines of fasting useful at times (literal fasting can be kind of sick-making for me, but that’s not usually what I do during Lent), so every year I try to find something to give up. Not this year, though. I’m getting married during Lent. I’ve made a few jokes to my closer friends about giving up abstaining from certain things this year, but other than that–well, Jesus said when the bridegroom’s around, the partiers don’t fast, and even though He was talking about Himself as the bridegroom, He was using an earthly, earthy analogy, descriptive of acceptable cultural behaviour at the time, so I guess I figure while my bridegroom’s around (and still “new,” as it were), I don’t have to fast, either.
All the same . . .
On Wednesday I had an unexpected little blast from The Past. The ultimate effect was to remind me of how much I love my Paul, but the immediate effect was also a blast of guilt. I guess maybe I’m not the only one who regrets how they’ve handled certain things in life, but I’m the only one that can feel guilty about my own. I’ve been told more than once that I over-think things, and so it’s not like this reaction of mine was all that surprising. I was just getting all ready to wallow in the mud of regret to no purpose, when I remembered that it was Ash Wednesday.
On Ash Wednesday the Church is traditionally focused on our individual and corporate sinfulness. Our culture tells us that there is no such thing as sin–or at least, it’s always other people’s. It tells us we need to try to make ourselves feel good about ourselves. Ash Wednesday kind of flies in the face of such thinking. But there’s a kind of austere or sometimes even fierce beauty to Ash Wednesday, and that is that it provides a context in which to be brutally honest with ourselves (and maybe with some others about ourselves) about the fact that we’re just not perfect. The point of that is recognising that I can’t make it on my own–I need a bail out, and the Christian hope, looking across the expanse of Lent toward Easter, is that there has been a bail out. There’s grace. I guess I kind of feel like the aforementioned Past-blast was a severe (and unintended, I suspect) grace, making Lent real to me this year after all. I didn’t wear ashes, but this quote by Lauren Winner (courtesy of a facebook friend) resonates with me:
What ministers with their ashes are offering is a bodily marker of God’s entry into our death. The ashes Cathie will inscribe on my forehead, and I on hers, let me name truths that most days I cannot or will not name — that I have sinned; also, that I have a body, and I am going to die. To walk around all day with a cross on your head is to walk around in a body inscribed with death. It is also, oddly, to walk around inscribed with hope — the hope that comes through Jesus’ having joined us in our mortality.”
Pondering this awareness of sin/need for grace thing suddenly struck me and I realised that I am, in fact, taking up a discipline for Lent–but this one won’t end at Easter. A week from tomorrow, I will pledge my messy, imperfect human life to another messy, imperfect human and he will pledge himself to me. We will throw in our lot with each other in spite of ourselves, because of the hope of the grace of God and of the grace He will grant us through each other through the crazy, hopeful life-discipline of marriage. I guess I’m giving up something for Lent (and beyond) after all. There’s an old phrase in the traditional wedding vows about “forsaking all others,” and although it’s a commitment I’ve wanted to make for years, the fact is, I’ve never yet shut down all other options. Next week, I will be doing that, to enter the freedom and security of faith and commitment. I’m scared. But I’m also excited. In a good way. It’s about the grace.