My family has shopped at Aldi grocery stores for some time. Comments about surprising finds make appearances in the group chat and are often topics of conversation at our gatherings. My cousins laud the company’s logistics and organization (one who lives in Germany is particularly devoted). But recently, my OSV co-workers shared with me an Aldi trope I had not heard of: the aisle of shame.
For the uninitiated, the Aldi “aisle of shame” is the center section of the store that changes weekly, often featuring seasonal goods. An unofficial moniker, sometimes abbreviated as AOS, the aisle of shame goes by many names, including the “aisle of surprises” and the “aisle of awesome.” And lest you think I’m exaggerating popular devotion to the AOS, I’ll have you know that the ALDI Aisle of Shame Community on Facebook boasts 1.5 million members, who frequently swap stories and photos of triumphant AOS finds.
And so I’ve been thinking about the AOS, and as I brought it up more and more frequently with my friends, I realized hidden within are not only treasures for hearth and home, but with the right eyes, a new spirituality for Lent.
The God of surprises
First and foremost, as we begin Lent, most faithful Catholics have begun to assemble a plan for how to approach the season. We strategize with confessors and friends about how to best approach our 40 days of penance. Sometimes, it’s even like putting together a shopping list.
But just like heading to Aldi, we have to be prepared for surprises. God’s providence is not necessarily our plan, so we have to be open to getting a little off track with our list. And the goal of Lent is to make the appropriate space in our lives so that we can more readily surrender to his designs. If we don’t walk down the aisle of awesome, we’ll miss the great bargains. So, too, in the spiritual life, we have to be open to finding the things that God wants to put in our path.
Throw it in the cart for someone else
Another friend recently told me that she found, for less than $5, a pair of light-up Paw Patrol boots that she knew a little boy in her parish would love. Without question she threw them in her cart. His mother called to thank her, saying, “He slept in them last night!”
The AOS is a delightful example of thoughtfulness and kindness. It even prompts it among shoppers. Spying a great find, how often have AOS devotees thought, “not for me, but I know someone who will love it!”? In fact, the AOS Facebook community is full of stories of fellow shoppers and Aldi employees who have come to the aid of mothers in distress and patrons in need.
That kind of considerate and gracious behavior should be part and parcel of Christian life. And we can cultivate it intentionally this Lent.
Currently, my niece’s favorite book — admittedly, at the age of 1.5 years, she can’t yet appreciate the classics — is “Pizza Party.” My sister found it for her in the … you guessed it … aisle of shame. What if we were to cling to our Lenten penances with something of the same passion a toddler clings to a favorite nighttime read? Or still what if we were to love the virtues we were trying to acquire the way a happy shopper clings to a 12-inch iron skillet, waffle maker or a rocking chair (all real AOS finds)?
Lent is a time for renewal. But to be revived, we need to surrender to God’s plan for our lives, cultivate generosity and feed our passion for Christian life.
Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is editor of Our Sunday Visitor. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickMaryOP.