Shakespeare didn’t waste his energy inventing stories. The plots of his plays were already on his bookshelves. He had only to read them and by the power of his creative imagination to utterly transform them, lifting old tales and soap operas into the realm of timeless and unforgettable reflections of nature and the infinite, interactive shades of human character. In one scene he can show how a number of personalities respond differently to the same events. He was also a theatrical businessman and shrewd investor and when he had made enough to retire into obscurity in his hometown he did. Like Bach, he became an incomparable genius by being rather ordinary, always perfecting his craft, faithful to his gift, and keeping his feet on the ground.
We don’t all have this kind of talent. But we all have the genius of holiness in our capacity for wholeness. Lent is a time for being rather low key, undramatic and unflashy. These days, we focus on the small details and routines of our observance and see what they are teaching us as they rub away a little of the accumulated grime of bad habits and blow off the dust of laziness.
The ego is being serviced during Lent. We give it a performance review and tell it to behave better. It doesn’t like this at first and after a few days, when the glitter of novelty wears off, it gets fidgety and looks for ways to assert itself. It may do this in predawn tweets that embarrass us in the light of day or during the day when it wants to grandstand. Fidelity to the practice will easily undermine these hackneyed old attempts to be original.
Originality is not something we can manufacture. The ego likes to stand out in front and be applauded, even by itself if the audience won’t. But if we try to fabricate originality we are shown up as third-rate. Originality, creativity, the goodness and wholeness we call sanctity, has to happen by itself and take everyone, ourselves included, by surprise. Jesus reminded us on the first day of Lent, not to be self-conscious, to take the attention off ourselves. Can we imagine how surprised and humbled Shakespeare or Bach must have felt when they wrote the last line or note of a new masterpiece? Because they were also ordinary they must have felt a ripple of self-satisfaction before sensing the next tidal wave of their imagination arriving.
Lent helps us recover our original innocence. It refreshes our capacity to be surprised and to live in the ever-amazing present. It makes us see that our life is a work of art and our way of living it our genius. That is why we can think of the mantra as a continuous Lent.