It is, in some ways, a little odd to open up shop at the start of the Lenten season. This is a time of cutting back, of simplifying, of generally making do with less on purpose. But to me, the time is fitting. For it was at the start of Lent a few years ago that I first articulated my frustration with the process of preparing our home to reflect this important liturgical season. Every other season seems to have its particular signs and tokens:
During Advent, we hang up our felt Jesse tree and light our pink and purple candles as the weeks to Christmas pass.
During Christmas, we outline the house in twinkle lights, and deck it with wreaths, poinsettias, nativities, and an absurdly large Christmas tree that dominates the living room until Epiphany.
During Ordinary time, our home altar has its own simple charm, occasionally featuring icons of saints special to the family, along with our candles and a rosary or two.
And Easter, of course, requires flowers--a riot of color and fragrance from tulips and hyacinths and lilies for that beautiful, blessed morning! Each year we add to our stock of perennials, saving the bulbs of our Easter flowers for planting in the fall to add more color to our spring garden, a little more hope to carry us through these long, dark Michigan winters.
But Lent....how to mark those 40 days in a way that is both meaningful and tasteful? Meijer doesn't have a special decoration section for the occasion! And honestly, I don't enjoy the idea of updating our home decor to reflect ever-changing style trends from year to year: I wanted something timeless and classic--something that could withstand the passing years and become part of a familiar ritual for the children, as the Jesse tree has done.
An Etsy hunt turned up some purple felt ball garlands, but they looked too festive somehow. I experimented with adding a purple vase of branches to the mantle, and a grapevine wreath reminiscent of the crown of thorns at the base of our standing crucifix, but my efforts seemed to fall flat. We even made an attempt at a resurrection garden, which was fun until a few days of neglect meant the sprouted grass seed died. Memento mori, indeed!
Finally, it occurred to me that I had no special devotional decoration for Lent because the whole meaning of these weeks of fasting, giving, and prayer is contained within the image of the Cross itself. That deceptively simple sign of bottomless contradiction--suffering and glory, hope and despair, life and death and our free choice between them--marked almost every room of the house. What I needed wasn't so much a fresh display to contemplate, but fresh eyes to see what already defines our home, our faith, and our very lives.
Our Lent collection arises from a desire to add something unique to the season to our family altar, and I love the simplicity and practicality of the two signs, especially. It only takes a moment to turn them around to reveal the Easter message, but that moment is an important one! It is those small, profound, changes--from purple to white, from darkness to light--that help to teach our forgetful spirits that the source of our hope is REAL. We live the Lent God calls us to live, bearing up as best we can under penances chosen or received, and in the end, celebrate not our own victory, but that of Christ, our savior who has turned everything around.