[This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times 12 March 2009]
Yes, that is my mug - and a tray ready to go up to my office. (The tray was $1 at the local thrift store, but always let me imagine a butler just might tiptoe into my study to take my tray when I'm done, and just as silently return it full again.)
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one - to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master's money. Mt. 25:15-18
I've come downstairs for a late afternoon cup of tea to find Mike leaning against the counter with a glass of milk kibitzing, while Chris and Anna make dinner. We are one day into Lent and the hot question in my kitchen is "What are you giving up for Lent?"
At 22, with almost as many Lenten seasons under her belt as the boys put together, Anna is impressed that Mike has successfully given up chocolate in a past Lent. "Are you going to give up coffee?" the boys tease her. "No way!"
All eyes are now on me. With a fresh cup of tea in hand, it was clear I wasn't giving up caffeine either. "So, Mom, What are you giving up?" "Well, last year I took up playing Scrabble every day," I said. That got their attention.
Scrabble is not included in the traditional triad of Roman Catholic penitential practices: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I will admit, too, that I hadn't intended at the outset that my daily Scrabble round be part of my Lenten practice. Nevertheless, the games that began Ash Wednesday yielded a rich source of reflection for me throughout the season. What did I learn?
Letters are given to you; gifts not of your own choosing perhaps but gifts nonetheless. In my heart, can I view seven consonants as a gift? Can I view even the annoyances in my life as sources of grace?
Letters are meant to make words from, even the letters you can't see how to use at first glance. You might want to trade letters in, but doing so as a matter of course is not a winning strategy. As St. Paul reminds the Corinthians, "If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? God placed the parts in the body as He intended."
Hold onto your letters in hopes of using them later and you risk missing other, possibly richer, opportunities along the way.
Narthex was a delicious word, but were there other wonderful and better scoring words I failed to make in the waiting? What in my life do I cling to that blinds me to God's desires for me?
You can only get so many points from your letters alone; winning depends on encounters with double and triple point squares. Grace is at play in our lives, enriching what we can do with our own limited resources. We should be alert to the signs of God's presence and place ourselves in His path.
Hoarding the letters you were granted loses you points in the end. Like the servant in Matthew's Gospel left holding the single talent when his master returns, gifts earn when they are put to work, not held in the hand. Hanging onto the U waiting for the Q was not a good idea.
Playing Scrabble for Lent might seem irreverent or even profane - the thought certainly startled the kids in my kitchen. We often choose to do things differently in Lent as penance. We can also choose to see things differently in Lent, even things as trivial as Scrabble, as a way to break down the artificial barriers between our spiritual lives and our daily lives. All our life comes from God and is oriented to God as its end, the trivial and profound alike.
Lent invites us to grow in grace not only through the Sacraments and the traditional devotional practices of prayer and penance but in every act of our lives, even those that seem firmly "of the world."
Father, you have taught us to overcome our sins by prayer, fasting and works of mercy. When we are discouraged by our weakness, give us confidence in your love. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for even and ever. Amen.