A White Lent


Spring is here, and everything is fresh and restless…and pastel. It doesn’t seem to fit the Lenten mood or palette sometimes. I expect to dwell in purple, moving somberly into black, and instead the world around me is full of yellow sunshine and pink blossoms.  Can the true Lenten atmosphere be salvaged from all the whistling and dancing going on around here?

Last year, I decided to learn some Easter carols with the girls. The only one that has really “stuck” so far is “White Lent,” by Percy Dearmer, which is in the Oxford Book of Carols. It’s a song built around the paradox of Lent in the springtime. It starts with a call to self-denial, but this is the giving up of worry, schemes, fretting. Lent is pictured as a cleansing, and its color is “chastened whiteness.” The song moves on to call us to act for social justice and mercy, but for today I’m just going to quote the first three verses, that capture the cleansing, windswept feel.

Now quit your care
And anxious fear and worry;
For schemes are vain
And fretting brings no gain.
To prayer, to prayer!
Bells call and clash and hurry,
In Lent the bells do cry,
‘Come buy, come buy
Come buy with love the love most high!’

Lent comes in the spring,
And spring is pied with brightness;
The sweetest flowers,
Keen winds, and sun, and showers,
Their health do bring
To make Lent’s chastened whiteness;
For life to men brings light
And might, and might,
And might to those whose hearts are right.

To bow the head
In sackcloth and in ashes,
Or rend the soul,
Such grief is not Lent’s goal;
But to be led
To where God’s glory flashes,
His beauty to come nigh,
To fly, to fly,
To fly where truth and light do lie.

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