Today is Clean Monday, according to the new calendar, the start of Lent for Byzantine Christians both Catholic and Orthodox. The West, of course, catches up this coming Wednesday with the distribution of ashes. On this Clean Monday I am in a supremely good mood, so much so that the fact that 16 February is also a federal holiday celebrating two of our slimiest overlords does not bother me in the slightest.
As the name implies, Clean Monday is a time of cleansing. Indeed, all of Lent is a time for cleansing of the soul and body, of reorienting our lives to that of Our Lord’s before his glorious Resurrection at Pascha. Upon finishing Morning Prayers this morning I set about performing a much needed cleansing of my room. It amazes me how much dust collects in between cleanings. Everything is spick and span as I write this. The immaculate wooden desk at which I sit is truly a sight for sore eyes. I’m hungry because of the mild fasting, but I don’t really care. God gives us consolations from time to time in order to draw us into the spiritual life – the more flies with honey approach. In this case the fact that I feel refreshed and purged at the start of what is bound to be a grueling forty days seems straight from the Beatific Vision itself.
Having completed the one bit of physical labour I’m likely to indulge in for a very long time, I set about breezing through Flannery O’Connor’s recently-published forty some odd page Prayer Journal. This journal she kept over the course of about a year and a half while she was away at college in Iowa City, a few years before the onset of the disease which would eventually kill her. Though she always wrote in a very deprecating style, her works which she meant for publishing or consumption by a third party always exuded a confidence in her own talents and in the truth of the faith she professed. In this private journal, which she likely never intended for anyone to see, she is far more worried by her own perceived lack of faith and talent. She says she dreads loosing her faith, and claims she only stays with it out of fear of hell.
Of course, she would eventually get over it, but not without wrestling with beautiful little gems like this brief entry from 02 January 1947:
“No one can be an atheist who does not know all things. Only God is an atheist. The devil is the greatest believer & he has his reasons.”
One could mine a quote like that for all sorts of literary meaning, but for the present I prefer to just let the mystery of that statement sink in. It’s like something out of a David Lynch film. I’m surprised the line did not find its way into the mouth of one of her nobly agnostic vessels of wrath from her later novels and short stories.
Her journal can be read in less than an hour, so I moved on to more profane literature: a wonderful book of anarchist life hacks by anarcho-capitalist evangelist Jeffrey Tucker (who also is the editor-in-chief of the New Liturgical Movement) devilishly entitled Bourbon for Breakfast: Resisting the Statist Quo, in which he lays out numerous ways to work around the government’s intervention in our everyday lives. Wholly appropriate for Presidents’ Day. It’s a wonderfully optimistic celebration of the good peaceful interaction and exchange, free from the coercion of POTUS and his orkish goons, bring to the world. No wonder they call Jeffrey the happy anarchist. I’m on cloud nine after all this gleeful anti-government sentiment.
Clean Monday is also clean outside the walls of my little compound as well. It is pleasantly warm in the sun. There is no haze. It is cool and breezy in the shade. If I were Southern gentry it would be a perfect day for sitting on the veranda drinking tea with my prize-winning peachicken at foot. My room smells of pine resin incense and beeswax, my scent of choice for this Lent. Strange, Lent is supposed to be a time of joyful sorrow, but to begin with I see no sorrow. I suppose that’s why we keep around Laetare Sunday.