Daffodils against a spring sunrise on the EMU campus. (EMU photos)

Bishop’s Mantle: ‘Brothers and sisters, Lent me your ears – listen, hear’

This column by Jim Bishop ’67 was published in the March 20, 2021, Daily News-Record. Jim has graciously “lent” us his blessing to share, as well as a few photos capturing the loveliness of his garden — and his own “dear heart,” Anna.

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“March, when days are getting long, Let thy growing hours be strong, To set right some wintry wrong.” – Caroline May (1820-1895)

Yes, dear hearts, there are some signs of hope as we muddle through the murky month of March, even as we mark the first day of spring and gravitate further into the Lenten season, culminating with Easter on April 4.

Bulbs awaken in the Bishop garden.

Foremost among the positive signs: While the vexing virus is still stalking its weary prey, more people are getting vaccinated (including Anna and me; got our second shot — Moderna — from the Virginia Department of Health earlier this month). While restrictions remain in place, and rightly so, we grasp at the possibilities that lie ahead to reconnect with people and favorite activities that have escaped us for so long.

“And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils.” – William Wordworth (1770 – 1850)

Thanks for that encouraging word, Bro. Bill. Clumps of bright yellow Narcissus pseudonarcissus seemed to break forth into joy almost overnight at our domicile, providing a colorful backdrop to winter drabness. Forsythia, hyacinths and tulips are raring to add their colorful tableau of early spring delight.

Anna Mast Bishop ’67 with Lenten flowers.

While Lent intersects with first signs of early spring — a time of promise, renewal and exuberance — it’s also a season of paradox (is the plural paradoxi?). It’s a time that many engage in introspection, fasting and penitence and cut back or seek to eliminate those impediments and practices that stand in the way of nourishing our souls.

Even while entering expectantly into this quest for energizing freshness, I must stop and admit that I am not all that I say I am — or even envision myself to be.

I may not administer the death penalty with a wooden cross, but I am still capable of crucifying my fellow human beings. Today it’s done almost as effectively with razor-sharp words, deadening silence or smoldering anger and resentment toward those who have wronged me, knowingly or unwittingly.

Why do any of us allow animosity, doubt, worry and lethargic self-satisfaction to absorb our being? Life is meant to be lived to the fullest, not halfheartedly endured, the persistent coronavirus aside.

I propose that Lent is intended not so much to “give up” as it is to “take on.” In this vein, I suggest that “hope springs eternal” and takes on new meaning:

  • When we acknowledge that life is too short to no longer be content with the way things are and decide to wait no longer for the other person to make the first move toward righting a wrong.
  • When we take time to say “thank you,” “great job,” “way to go,” and “I appreciate what you did,” to those around us — our family, friends and beyond — verbally whenever possible or in this era of social distancing — by phone, social media or even, yikes, a handwritten letter.
  • When we take deliberate steps to care for our physical bodies — especially as the ravages of time take its toll on the aging process — to foster mental, emotional and spiritual wellness, and to work at quitting one bad habit and cultivating a good one in its place. What better time than Lent to work at this oblation.
  • When we learn how to relax (it doesn’t happen automatically in retirement) and just have fun, pursuing something that calls for a fresh spark of creativity in this COVID age.
  • When we no longer compare ourselves to someone else or crave his or her possessions and talents.
  • When we show genuine interest in what others have to say, beginning with those nearest to us — our immediate families and closest friends.
  • When we show greater concern for the outward journey — not burning out by trying to be all things to all people but by identifying a specific need locally that we can respond to and then “just do it.”
  • When we go to someone who has wronged us, intentionally or unintentionally or whom we’ve offended and seek forgiveness and reconciliation, striving to the best of our ability to live at peace with those around us.
  • When we include in our wardrobe — bought any new apparel lately? — the belt of truth, the shoes of peace and the shield of faith (Eph. 6:13-17).

The encouraging thing is that, for most of us, it’s not too late to work at internal and external changes that help us to become all we are meant to be.

As Indian-American author Deepak Chopra submits, “Find the place inside yourself where nothing is impossible.”

I suggest that the Lenten journey begins, however slowly and anxiously, with being silent, listening, visualizing things as they have the potential to be, exercises that don’t come easily in this dissonant, often overwhelming swirl of activity around us.

Isaiah 40:31 reads: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not fail, teach me, Lord, teach me Lord, to pray …”

What are we waiting for?

Jim Bishop lives in Harrisonburg. He welcomes your comments at jimanna.bishop@gmail.com

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