Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lent and Love as illustrated by the Velveteen Rabbit

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

From "The Velveteen Rabbit" by Margery Williams

I bumped into this quote via a Lenten devotional set using this book as the focus, written by Andrew Dotchin. It's being posted this Lent here.

Although I read it early this morning, in my "coffee and prayer" time, it has stuck in my head all day long today--probably because of where my focus is this Lent. Every Lent is different. Some years, I haven't felt like I had much cleaning up to do. Last year, I came to the realization that there were some parts of me that needed to be cleaned off down to the bare metal. I had decades of grime simply from the wear and tear , covered with layers of paint, that would need to be stripped down before re-painting, because I felt that if I didn't, the paint wouldn't "stick."

I've done a lot of that stripping--not as much as I had hoped, in some places--but enough that there's plenty bare metal showing. But here is where I ran into one of those twisty curves I blogged about in a previous post. My first big Lenten discovery this year is that I am probably not supposed to paint that bare metal, rather, my task is to shine it up and let it glimmer with the natural gloss that it is, and for it to develop its own patina, like fine antique metal work.

But what it means is I have to work with my barest, truest, most holy self, and it means giving up a large chunk of "who I thought I was." I got used to the color of the paint. I thought on occasion, others were touching it up with paint and in reality, they were putting tar on it, allowing more dirt and grime to stick. Still others painted with good intentions, or I painted it myself, but the colors didn't quite match, or the surface wasn't prepped enough for it to stick well.

All in all, these are not bad discoveries. But they can become a bit confusing at times. Some are literally hidden surprises. Here's another way to look at it. Imagine having a room in the house that for years, had bile green or baby poop yellow carpet. There's always enough furniture and ample enough throw rugs to hide the carpet you don't like. But now imagine stripping away all the coverings and finding a gleaming hardwood floor that got covered simply because at the time, it was the fad to have wall-to-wall carpet.

Others are rotten spots in the floor you didn't know exist, and you stare at them and think, "It's a wonder I didn't fall through here." Still others need minor repairs, and there are lots of places that aren't worth fixing, and their minor defects lend character.

So, in this sense, it's a different kind of Lent for me. It is a season of imagining what the room will look like for the great adventures of life yet to come. It's about making this room hospitable for company. It's about being real, in the way the Velveteen Rabbit yearned to be real, and about letting others love me until my hair is rubbed off. It's about looking at less "protecting" and more fanning the flames of the imaginations of others, and inviting everyone over for S'mores.

I really believe when we do that, the flames of our own imaginations thrive.

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