Alan Riquelmy: Lenten dreams

Lent descends like a whisper.

You go to the special service in the afternoon, as the sun slowly dips. It casts the church in different colors than what you see Sunday mornings. It arrives, soft and silent, and brings shadows from hidden angles rarely witnessed.

It’s a different slouching beast from Sundays, when bright windows echo each other as the choir crescendoes from the loft. The heat of the day slowly building as the service progresses. The crowded aisles compressing, elbows nudging as you kneel for Communion.

Ninety minutes is a long time for a child to sit still.

But Lenten Vespers is different. You move around the church, lurching like a carnival ride from one station to another. The wooden figures hanging from the walls are ignored throughout the year, except now, except from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

You list them off your fingers as the circuit continues. Regardless of your count, it’s still shorter than Sunday service. Soon you’re out the door toward a meatless dinner.

It is Lent, after all.

The season starts with a decision on what to forego until Easter. Chewing gum is a popular choice. You don’t want to give up something truly desired — the arcade, an allowance. This isn’t Christmas. No need to go overboard.

They added another option along the way: Do something good you ordinarily wouldn’t. Pick up trash during Lent. Volunteer at the soup kitchen.

That never seems to work. There’s always an excuse why an additional task can’t be done. But something, once forbidden, can be avoided for a few weeks.

One parent, either a biblical scholar or weary adult — maybe both — notes that Sundays aren’t counted toward the season’s 40 days. So chew your gum on the days you can, and rush toward Easter and better times.

For a moment, look past the stained glass and aves, far past the dyed eggs and hidden baskets. A bacchanalia brews with heavy French accents. Advance a few years from shadowed churches and find yourself blocks from Canal Street. Neon lights twinkle like Christmas all year round. People shudder from one station to the next, just like in childhood.

Both adult and child say their prayers. They just use different words.

Maybe it’s not your thing, the lurching from one bar to another, the pressure to consume. Strangers crowd around in a haze. No one has a name.

It’s the buildup, the crescendo before Lent begins. Adults can shrug off the party, return to tame lives and forget what they’re supposed to give up. The child is stuck in a loop, circling a church, remembering the stops along the way.

They’ve changed the church since then. At least one remodel, maybe more. The entrance is on the other side from your childhood, and the Stations of the Cross look different.

Everyone’s older, gray and loping across the floor. The prayer books have a shine lacking from years ago. The rector has changed shape, more than once, and doesn’t know your name.

But the motions around the church are the same. A small group gathers in the afternoon, stopping 14 times as it draws a circle.

There’s a child following along, watching the clock tick by. He waits for the ceremony to end, and then, after the celebrant extinguishes the last candle, he’s gone.

Disappeared with a whisper.

Alan Riquelmy is the editor of The Union. He can be reached at 530-477-4239.

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