Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Giving up Lent for Lent

Lent is my favorite church season.

I know this is odd, because Lent is depressing.  But I learned to love Lent in the midst of my own lonely days and nights, as a teenager, when the idea of being isolated and exhausted and hungry for more than bread alone made a lot of sense.  I liked the reality of Lent, in the face of American self-reliance.  Not everything is butterflies and unicorns.  Sometimes you need to take a good hard look at yourself and go, "I'm not entirely sure this is the life God had in mind."

So Lent was my favorite season.  We started every Sunday service with a confession and forgiveness, and the sermons and prayers were about repentance and self-discipline and "returning to the Lord".  We finally got to be honest about all that was ugly and painful and hurt inside ourselves.  That we make mistakes.  That we live in a broken world.  That our best isn’t always what we want it to be.

But Lent has not really been what I longed for, this year.  I felt burnt out on Lent, even before it started.  And for the past eight or so days I have been doing this purposeless self-flagellation that I have not thought of a "good" Lenten discipline and stuck to it.  Which, you know, is exactly why Jesus went into the desert for forty days to struggle with Satan.  "On this, the fortieth day of my fast and exhaustion, as I lie in the desert sand utterly desolate in body and in spirit, my greatest hope is that two thousand years from now people will shame themselves for not giving up chocolate."

I asked God for help, yesterday, because I was feeling bad about my failure to Lent properly, and I got silence, which is sometimes better than an answer.  I've found that I long for an answer to my "Help, help, help" prayers, even though the answer is usually "You do realize that more than half of this problem is you, right?"  I should probably prefer silence.  But I don't, and I got it anyway, yesterday, because sometimes I need to be reminded that I am the least patient person on the planet.

And today one of my favorite professors, who also happens to be one of my favorite spiritual advisors because she is funny and sarcastic and assigns Anne Lamott for preaching class, said, "I gave up Lent for Lent."

This makes perfect sense to me.

I have a new supervisor at my internship church, which is good, because she has experience with leading congregations through the interim process.  But change is hard.  And I am without the company of the women who have been my biggest support system for the past two years -- the seminary colleagues I shared classes and dinners and happy hours with, with whom I laughed and cried and fought and worked out our lives and struggles.  We're scattered to the corners of the nation on internship.  And we really miss each other and the continuity our interwoven lives gave.

And the seminary is, in bold honesty, in shambles.  Last week we learned that faculty will be reduced by about a third over the next three years, and staff will be reduced by 30-35 employees in the next six months.  Our professors are tense, their faces pulled tight at the eyes and mouths.  Those with tenure look at their colleagues without it and wince.  The seminary has been open in teaching us that the institutional church is dying; I think they just did not expect it to be dying today.

And of course in the face of all this I do the "pastor thing," which means my wrists are bound with the sinews of daily prayer -- for friends and congregation members who are sick, who are suffering, who are afraid, who need a new job, who long for new life, who struggle with addiction and disordered eating, who are in recovery, who are hanging on to recovery by a thin black thread.

On Ash Wednesday, our campus pastor Laura said, "We're already living in death and dust.  We don't need to be reminded."  And they marked our foreheads with ash and oil, and proclaimed, "Consider yourself dead to sin and alive in God through Christ Jesus."

This is what I need, right now.  Not sackcloth and ashes.  Not fasting and mourning.  I have enough of that already.  Not all of us do, perhaps, but I do -- I wake up and wince, even before I remember what season it is.  My heart is heavy enough.  It hates the added weight of Lent.  And I wasn't made for grief.  I wasn't saved for mourning.  I was created for the glory of God, to be fully alive.

This year, this season, maybe just this week, I need to live not in Lent but in the promise of Easter.  I need to be honest about the grief, the pain, the exhaustion, the hunger for bread and yet so much more than bread, everything that is already broken and deserted in my life.  And then I need the promise of Easter, of grief replaced with amazement, with pain turned into joy, with exhaustion now excitement, with hunger satisfied at the table at Emmaus when the risen Christ is revealed in the breaking of the bread.

So tonight I turned up the bass on my car stereo until I could feel it in my heart, and I sang along all the way home.

Enough in me and my life is dead and barren, today.

Today, I'll give up Lent for Lent.

No comments:

Post a Comment