Part one: the way downstairs
Lent is a time of necessary extremities.
It is not a different occasion, either good or bad, like a beach vacation in the sun, or an emergency hospital stay in the critical darkness.
It is an abrupt, importunate unveiling of life as it is, really.
We are always walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Death: in Lent, one hopes, we feel it in the heart at night, and in the interstitial moments of hunger in the day.
It is not good to run away from this. We all have black, lugubrious doors in our basements that we keep locked and barred shut, but we know where they lead. We lounge, on the upper floors, in various philosophical luxuries and pleasure domes of sedation and well-rehearsed behavioral patterns of disregard.
But always, the nocturnal and subterranean rattling, clinking and the bumping, the inexorable sighs.
Lent militates against disregard.
But there are green pastures for the courageous and cool waters for the meek.
The valley gets deeper year by year: the weight of omission and commission, of things voluntary and involuntary, actions and thoughts, declamations, denunciations, subtle slanders and false witnesses, misrepresentations and sub-political spins, misinformings, blasphemies and apostasies ...
These are all getting quite normal indeed, and the valley gets dug deeper.
Human nature ever and more poignantly regrets its unnaturality ...
... while the celebrities celebrate (and advertise) their soporific peccadilloes (but you do not hear their sighing).
The valley road is bedecked and festooned by marquees and carny-barkers: neon and phosphorescence hold back the shadows lurking, seeping, lunging opportunistically at REM moments, when the nous is caught in the television-web of its own devising.
The utter embarassment of the valley is that we have met the fool of Proverbs, and he is us.
We know, shamefully, with the fig-leaf sort of shame, just who the lost lamb is in the storm, just who is the lost coin, the prodigal, the prostitute, the persecutor, the man robbed and stripped and beaten by thieves on the interstate to Jericho.
Casualties, collateral damage, of the Valley of Shadow.
The world in worldliness is a giant refugee camp losing, losing its past, and watching impotently as the powers and principalities negotiate its future away, into incorporeal sighs.
We know the Valley and its big black door.
Lent makes you wake up and take heed. It draws you down the basement steps and turn off the radio of disregard.
Hear them, the regrets of time.
"I fear no evil, for Thou art with me."