We’re now in the season of Lent. For my friends curious about the oddities of Episcopalians and many other Christians, Lent is the period of forty days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. It is the time Jesus spent fasting in the Judaean Desert, during which Satan tested him. Many Christians use this symbolic period of time each year, which begins on Ash Wednesday (“you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – a powerful reminder that we are all family), to give up or take on a practice that heightens spiritual introspection.
Lent isn’t just what precedes Easter; Easter couldn’t happen without Lent – the two events really go hand in hand. My interpretation is that Jesus’ time in the desert led to his most powerful, socially unacceptable actions – one of the reasons I love the guy so much. His time in solitude and introspection opened him in new ways to be a bold face of God, even – and especially – in situations that made others extremely uncomfortable and angry. He healed those who didn’t deserve to be healed, said things in synagogues that bothered people enough to drive him out of town, engaged in activities that weren’t appropriate for the Sabbath, and loved those who weren’t loved by anyone. And it was really tough on him; he spent a lot of time in the days leading up to his crucifixion in solitude and prayer. He did radical things in the name of God which led to his punishment of crucifixion.
I have often thought about how, as Episcopalians, we go through the same calendar – rituals and roller coasters of pain, hope, fear, miracles, grief, joy, death, and resurrection – every year. I like having a calendar, because no matter where I am in life I can go to an Episcopal service and find the familiar; and with the comfort of a liturgy that repeats itself in cycles I can come back to the same passages year after year and review my ‘christian growth chart.’
Now, before I get too far, I need to make two things clear:
- I’m no biblical scholar, I’m not ordained, and I don’t really know what I’m talking about. But I’m an Episcopalian, so that’s ok.
- I’m a Crazy Christian, who else would consider it a deep spiritual privilege to spend hours writing a blog post that might normally be written by a priest or bishop? This is a weird hobby, and I’m a weird person.
And for this season of Lent, I’m digging deeper into that part of it. The weird part. The deeper realization and understanding that part of being a christian in the world is opening myself to the possibility of being changed by the love of God by spending loads of time thinking and reading and writing about it. Let me repeat – being changed, not changing others. I believe it is the change within that will convert me to interact with the world around me in a more holy way. Loving the world into wholeness means learning how to love, and if I realize that the way to wholeness is in loving myself more fully, only then can I understand what Christ means when he says to love all my neighbors as myself.
We choose what glasses to wear every day; we choose how we will see and interact with ourselves and the world every day – stay with me here – it is the lenses through which we see that impact our understanding and interactions with everything and everyone. Getting a good prescription certainly helps; if we can see ourselves in the mirror better, then we’re better able to see the world around us. It is our perspective of the world that allows us to see what really needs a change: Is it our hearts? Our minds? Our anger? Our patience? We only have control over what we can change about ourselves. As for other people, all we can do is love them as our neighbors. And Lent is a perfect opportunity each year to learn how to love more fully. It’s an opportunity to reexamine our own journeys toward wholeness, to look inside ourselves with vulnerability: to see what walls we’ve built in the last year, to find seeds that need nurturing, and to look for ways to bring any forgotten gifts outward so we can serve the world in a more loving, healing way.
This year I have been struggling with what to give up or take on as a spiritual practice during these forty days. The last four years I have been taking on water in the middle of a vast expanse of sea, running out of energy and buckets with which to bail. In the past four years I was diagnosed with a lifelong degenerative disease, experienced a scary end to an abusive relationship, lost the ability to work full-time, my grandfather died, a best friend died tragically and traumatically, then my mental health took a nosedive. I have been waiting for the waves to settle, the sun to come out, and land to embrace me once again. It is with this narrative I enter Lent 2016. I am tired, weary, and helpless.
I imagine this is how people went to Jesus to ask him to heal them, with their last ounce of faith. Even today, it is the broken who summon wavering hope and faith in the search for a healer, for something or someone to believe in. With nothing to lose, I might as well try this Jesus guy.
During Lent, finding Jesus in our own existence is a conscious decision. Inside each of us is a house; we’ve lived in it however many years we’ve been on this planet, and all of us have overlooked rooms and run-down corners and maybe a garden that needs tending. What needs renovating? Or throwing out? Inside us is our house, and each year we need the reminder that we (our houses!) are part of God’s house – and we must care for our portion.
As depleted as we can often feel, even when we feel we have nothing more to give, Lent serves as a reminder that we are still equal parts of the human family:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. – I Corinthians 12: 21-26
Even if we don’t feel up to renovations this year because we’re just struggling to pay rent, it’s important to make the journey into Lent knowing that we’re still part of the body of God and we DO matter. God and God’s kingdom can’t live without us, and it’s not about taking on a huge spiritual transformation every year. It’s about recognizing the changes that happen within us no matter if we decide to spend a little more time appreciating the sunshine or praying or becoming part of a meaningful effort to combat poverty, racism, and sexism.
This is a transformative year for my life as a christian. I have been struck by the passion and energy of the Jesus Movement following the election of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and my faith is bursting at the seams. I have even adopted the once-scary label of evangelical christian. And I’ve been struck by three words that keep coming up; so these will be the words I study during my Lenten journey. These are redemption words. Healing words. Powerful words. Words that will take me on a journey to loving myself, and the world, more fully:
- Koinonia: (from Wikipedia) The essential meaning of the koinonia embraces concepts conveyed in the English terms community, communion, joint participation, sharing and intimacy. Koinonia can therefore refer in some contexts to a jointly contributed gift.
- Ubuntu: (from Wikipedia) According to Michael Onyebuchi Eze, the core of ubuntu can best be summarised as follows:
“ ‘A person is a person through other people’ strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance”.
- Reconciliation: (from Wikipedia) Reconciliation is the end of the estrangement, caused by original sin, between God and humanity.
And so, we come to my favorite reading during Lent: Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21, summarized in a 2015 Ash Wednesday sermon by the Reverend Heidi Haverkamp: “It’s not about wearing ashes so that everyone can see them. Ash Wednesday is for our hearts. Lent is for our hearts. This is all supposed to help us become better people — more loving people.” To me, this is the essence of being Christian – of being human. It’s about becoming a better person but not having to tell everybody about it.
Jesus loved the whole world, no exceptions. And we’re called to a path of becoming more like Jesus. If that’s not challenge enough for anyone to take on for a Lenten journey I don’t know what is.