I opened up my commentary from Luke and out of its pages came this photo. I received it a few years ago from a parishioner who shared it along with some fascinating information. Called Devil’s Tongue, the flower is filled with flies, and stinks with the smell of a dead water buffalo- to attract the pollinators she said. She noticed it alongside her house, but never remembered planting it or seeing it before.
I held on to the photo because it is, in many ways, the personification of why we need Lent. More than a few of us walk this world looking beautiful and lush- draped in vibrant clothes and flowing with blessings and privileges. We are flushed with greenery even while the world around us turns withered and brown. BUT, for fear of losing all our finery, we use our tongues to cast out into the world words of negativity and jealousy that create a stink that only attracts more people like us- people living in a state of greed, bitterness and closed mindedness. Outside, we are gorgeous and lush, inside we resemble Gollum from Tolkien’s tales, muttering about our “precious.” If someone pointed out our words and behavior, we might not remember how we accumulated this desire to protect ourselves at the expense of others who are different from ourselves. Perhaps we’d shrug and say it just showed up one day.
Lent encourages us to take stock of the flies we attract and the stink we emit. It challenges us to examine closely the less disciple-worthy things our devil tongues say, as well as what we do and think; and it asks us to cast them off for a month of so, to see how our lives change for the better when we are less angry, ignorant, jealous or resentful. As crazy as it sounds, it’s a lot to ask of a person- to profoundly change their emotional reactions and thoughts; perhaps even harder than giving up beer or dessert. Not as hard as giving your life for the sins of the world entire, but difficult nonetheless. And yet, in the process of letting go, we may just find peace where before we were unsettled and anxious. Also, we may find substantially less flies surrounding us, and that’s always a bonus.