The Grape-Nuts of Wrath, or, Quarantining with Jesus
By DARRYL TIPPENS
So now we are in the season of Lent, a time for penitence and self-denial. While the observance officially began on Ash Wednesday, rather than 40 days, it feels more like a 400-day observance. During this time, so many things have been denied to us—time with family, face-to-face worship, live entertainment, freedom to travel, and during our recent “snowpocalypse,” even basics like power and potable drinking water. This has been a season of sacrifice and denial (more forced than chosen).
Over against the big things we have lost, there are the tiny things we’ve given up in this long season of denial. Take Grape-Nuts cereal, for example. That’s right. For months there has been a national shortage of Grape-Nuts. Post managed to produce Grape-Nuts breakfast cereal for 124 years—through the Spanish flu epidemic, the Great Depression, and both World Wars. But this time around—Grape-Nuts disappeared from supermarket shelves due to “supply issues.” Mysteriously, Post experienced a failure in their “product process,” a process that is not “easily replicated,” they say. So, of necessity, I gave up Grape-Nuts for Lent.
Popular singer Willie Nelson echoes the pandemic frustration: “This is the worst time of my life. I’ve never been this frustrated. I try to think positive, but feel like I’m in jail—I can’t go here, I can’t go there. . . .” It’s like the whole world has been forced into quarantine.
“Quarantine” is a word with a curious origin, which is related to Lent. The word, derived from Latin (and Spanish, French, and Italian), derives from the number 40. What many don’t know is that originally the word “quarantine” did not refer to medical isolation to protect people from contagious diseases. “Quarantine” was for centuries the name for Jesus’ 40-day isolation in the wilderness. Jesus was the first to “quarantine” during his forty-day sojourn in the wilderness. Lent is our version of Jesus’ quarantine, not to prevent physical disease, but aid our spiritual health.
Lenten observance, then, is not an end itself, but the prelude to something promising—spiritual renewal. Lent, like a medical quarantine, is not the “main event,” not an end in itself, but the means to something better that lies ahead. Lent and Holy Week are the prelude to Easter, the promise of New Life and Resurrection.
The losses of our year-long Lenten journey are deep, but they foreshadow a season of new hope. Willie Nelson will soon be performing in concerts. Grape-Nuts cereal is on the shelves again. The green shoots of better days are emerging from the winter of our discontent, just as surely as my daffodils and tulips are in full bloom. Easter is coming.
Chastened by loss and denial, we now see better the blessing of minor gestures of good will and the smallest of things—the phone call from a friend; the hand-written note that comes in the mail; a fist-bump; the tiny vial of a life-saving vaccine; a kind word spoken in the check-out line; a cup of cold potable water; even the crunchy taste of Grape-Nuts cereal.
Darryl Tippens is retired University Distinguished Scholar at Abilene Christian University