“Other countries have ‘climate'” remarked Chesterton once in a fit of patriotic fervor. “England has weather.” As a native Washingtonian, I am inclined to sympathize with Chesterton here. We Washingtonians enjoy weather, not just climate, here in the upper left hand corner of the map. And in March, Washington is decidedly weatherful. You can to go to the beach in shorts on a March morning and by the afternoon, you may be forced back to the house by soaking rain and gale force winds. I’ve seen it snow enough to bury the place and then get bright and beautiful the next day. Children tend to love this, adults to hate it (especially adults whose job is making life predictable and safe, such as school administrators and bus schedulers). But there it is: weather. As Mark Twain said, everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
March used to be the beginning of the year in ages past, before the calendar got shaped up by Pope Gregory. And with all due respects to the Holy Father (who finally got the calendar to actually keep time and stop gaining a week and a half every millennium or so), I wish they would have kept March as the beginning of the year rather than consigning it to the sound-muffling, snow-laden depths of January. March seems to me to be much more what life, on the whole, is like. Therefore, starting a year out in March seems to me to be a good preview of what to expect the rest of the time. March says, “Look, if you’re a perky optimist who doesn’t really want to face the fact that things can go terribly wrong, take a look at me. I can drive you from short-sleeves to flood warnings in a single day. I am your preview that it won’t always be July and August, pal. Sooner or later, November will have its turn too.” On the other hand, if you are a gloomy pessimist, March is a rebuke to you too. It says loudly, “For heaven’s sake, bub, wake and up and live! Get out in the wild wind, take life by the mane and let it roar! This is no time to mope. Yes, there are dark January days, but there is also the promise of April and beyond. Start planting now so you can see the blossoms then.”
March is not for the timid.
Nor is Lent, which is, appropriately enough, observed smack in the middle of this riot of weather, as though the heavens are themselves participating in Christ’s climactic struggle against what St. Paul called “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). March, better than any other month, cries out that the Christian life is a struggle and a war. It reminds us that there is such a thing as sacred time and that behind it is the truth that God became incarnate in time and matter to do battle with evil just as spring does battle with winter.
So at Lent we are called to prayer, fasting and almsgiving to experience with him something of his own sacrificial self-giving and the struggle against evil. There’s a certain quality of the mystical to all this which I do not understand but which makes sense at a gut level. It makes sense that a revelation rooted in the Incarnation would have us not merely think about but enact, taste and feel in the very winds and weather what our Lord went through to save us. That, I think, is why Lent, like March, is an exciting time. The chaos of March weather is like the chaos of battle. And all battles are echoes of the climactic battle of Golgotha. Every we time we pray, or give of ourselves, or fast for the sake of Christ, we send reinforcements in the struggle to free more prisoners from the chains of the prince of the power of the air. And that, Mr. Twain, is what we can do about the weather.