lenten journal: how do I get there from here?


    Ash Wednesday

    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?



    1. This is my second year observing Lent. My first sincere observation. When we open ourselves to whatever God has laid in front of us, we experience something no one can understand except one who has done it before.
      Enjoy the presence of God.

    2. Let us all begin together; let us be thankful, boys and girls – and let us never get over that Love.

      I will frame this ‘plain’ Wednesday evening in the context of the big table – with Jesus, our friend, welcoming us all. Thanks for that image to mark this first day.

      be blessed, brother..

    3. I like you did not grow up in a Christian Heritage that ever spoke of the lenten season. I discovered lent as a church history major in college.

      Your attitude toward this sacred season is inspiring. May you be blessed by God as you embrace this period of holiness to him.

    4. Growing up in a small Protestant denomination, I never heard anything about Lent–in fact, last year was the first time I went to an Ash Wednesday service and had my forehead marked with ashes in our little liturgical church (which ended up closing). So, I look forward to observing the “Lenten Journey” with mostly blog friends this year. During the next forty days,I, too, want to be changed and to see God’s hand in everyday life!

    5. This is beautiful, Milton, thank you! I grew up without a strong sense of the church seasons – I probably learned more in my study of the Middle Ages than I ever did in church. And when I became an Episcopalian, my attendance was sporadic for years. Now that I’m in a regular groove, I love how the seasons ebb, flow, and come around again. (This particular year Ash Wednesday had me making a switch right back to Easter immediately after … I set up for a funeral after the service was done and we do funerals in Easter white. It brought the point home nicely.)

      When you get through with that stack, I’d recommend “Things Seen and Unseen” by Nora Gallagher as a picture of a year in the life of a church, marked off by the kalendar.

      A blessed and holy Lent to all!

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