I didn’t grow up knowing much about Lent, much less observing it. The word sounded oddly like the stuff that collects in your belly button when you wear a fuzzy sweatshirt. My first real encounter with the power of the season was through an Episcopal colleague in Fort Worth. She was the youth minister at the Episcopal church near the Baptist church I was serving and she invited me to the Ash Wednesday service and shared with me her own sense of power and meaning in both the service and the season. I started sneaking into the back of other Anglican services and found great meaning in the ritual of the service and the contour of the ecclesiastical year.
About the same time, I wrote a letter to Madeleine L’Engle, who was a lifelong friend –even though she didn’t know me – because of her wonderful book, A Wrinkle in Time, which Ms. Reedy, my fourth grade teacher in Lusaka, Zambia read to us at the end of each day. Madeleine wrote me back and we corresponded briefly, until I got a form letter from her after the death of her husband.
“He became sick at Epiphany,” she wrote, “ and he died just after Pentecost.”
I was struck by the way she marked time, with the difference in her words and saying he got sick in January and died in May. Her book, That Irrational Season, is a collection of linked essays that follow the church year expanding on the power marking time in a more sacred sense. True, the calendar is contrived somewhat, in the sense that Jesus’ life did not happen in such a particular order, yet that’s not the whole picture.
“Teach us to number our days,” the psalmist says. Moving from Advent to Lent to Pentecost to Ordinary Time (I love that name) is living out that prayer.
For me, the pilgrimage is one of reading, writing, and connecting. I have, over the last several years, developed a ritual of my own, which involves writing a thousand words a day about what I have found in that day. I’ve also learned to carry the words of others with me as I go. Here are my companions for this season:
The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring by Parker J. Palmer
Suffer the Little Voices, poems by Nathan Brown
Talking the Walk: Letting Christian Language Live Again by Marva Dawn
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle
Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories by Daniel Taylor
Life Work by Donald Hall
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller (still haven’t finished it!)
Some of the books are well worn and marked up from reading and re-reading, some are new adventures for me; all seem to be good bread for the journey.
Frederick Buechner says, “Faith is a journey without maps.” Lent, for me, is a journey within the Journey, a living metaphor for all of my life, an intentional time of focus and reflection to remember, as the old saying goes, who I am and whose I am.
I’m starting the journey already tired. I have a sense, somehow, that life may look very different on the other side of Easter than it does right now. Part of that sense is I need it to look different. I’m moving at a pace right now that I can’t maintain. I’m also trying to discern how best to live my life so that I’m feeding and expressing the deepest passions of my heart. Over the past four of five years, much of my Lenten journey has had to do with coming to terms with my depression. This winter has given me a bit of a respite from that, for whatever reason, so I’m charting some different territory, for which I’m grateful. Though I’m tired, I’m not without some energy.
And so I wonder, “How do I get there from here?”
The question sounds as if I know where I’m going. I don’t, other than to say I know this is a journey through the Cross to the Resurrection. Part of any journey is knowing what to hang on to and what to let go. Along with my faith, I know to hang on to Ginger; other than her (and, of course, the schnauzers), the rest is up for grabs. I’m looking for a conversion experience, a transformation, a deep encounter with my God.
My new blog-friend, Beth, wrote this week about living in the context of “never getting over what Jesus has done for us.” Yes. I want to live like I will never get over Love.
We mark Ash Wednesday at our church with a bread and soup fellowship supper and then a service. Ashes are not necessarily a part of Congregational tradition, so we use other symbols of commitment and contrition. Tonight, however, I have to miss the service because this is one of my days at the restaurant, where it is just plain Wednesday. Some of the folks who will come into the pub and the restaurant tonight may be coming from church, but most will not. What focus I find to begin my journey will be in how I choose to frame the evening. So, tonight I’m going to consider each meal I make an offering. Though I won’t see the faces of those whose food I’m preparing, I’m going to imagine that we are all at a big table – with the folks from church, those of you who are reading here, my friends and family in faraway places – and I am helping to prepare the meal that calls us all together.
What makes work sacred is not the work, but the heart of the worker.
I’m headed to work expecting today to not be just another Wednesday; I’m beginning my Lenten Journey expecting it to not be just another forty days. I want my eyes, ears, and heart to be open to all there is to find in burning bushes, pregnant silences, deep ritual, and daily work. I want to be changed.
Hear my prayer, O Lord: how do I get there from here?