A number of years ago I was on a weeklong Lenten retreat at a monastery. I stayed at the guesthouse of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Newburyport, MA which is this tremendously beautiful old New England farmhouse. I’ve forgotten now what the topic was that week for the times of reflection followed by long stretches of silence, but I do remember that this date fell during that time.
The brother who was doing the cooking told us in the morning that we would be having turkey for dinner with all the trimmings because it was the Feast of the Annunciation, and, he said with a smile, we don’t eat enough turkey dinners. So that evening at a shared meal around the table, we feasted, and laughed, and spoke openly. (Usually meals were silent or spent listening to music or a book being read). It was a truly delightful experience.
Today is the day Christians celebrate Mary’s visitation from the angel Gabriel, telling her she had been chosen by God to become the mother of Jesus. Mary simply said yes to God’s call. We celebrate it today because it’s exactly 9 months till Christmas. And it almost always falls during the season of Lent.
Our family is in the second week of primarily staying at home. We’ve played games, and made simple meals together. We’ve walked outside with our beagle and read by the fire. We’ve gotten on each other’s nerves and worried as we heard about people we know who have become ill. We’ve talked about things we’d like to do when this time is over—especially seeing friends and engaging in things that bring us joy outside the realm of our home.
We’ve unintentionally given up a lot this Lent. Way more than we could have ever anticipated. All of us are walking in the desert, trying to find our way in the wilderness. It’s disorienting and scary.
In my grocery shopping to prepare for a possible shelter-in-place order, I grabbed a turkey. When I got home, I promptly put it in the freezer, feeling a bit of shame that I had bought a whole turkey in my panic and thinking I wouldn’t use it at all until the fall. And then I remembered this date, and the turkey I had with the brothers at the SSJE, and the blessing of a feast day smack in the middle of Lent.
So today we’re having turkey. With all the trimmings.
As the news we hear gets more and more grim it’s easy to let our despair grow. To allow the wilderness to close in around us. To not see the gifts of God or the beauty of the world or the joy of simple things even just a little.
But we can be intentional to push against that darkness by enjoying a special meal around a table with those we live with and love. Or working on a project that brings us immense satisfaction. Or stepping outside to see the beginnings of spring. Or calling friends who live alone.
We can find ways to feast in the wilderness if we choose to.