Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Faith: Looking At Lent From The Wilderness

So Lent isn't something I grew up with... My church did Palm Sunday and Easter like a champ but Holy Week was just rolled into one or the other, and Lent was one of those mysterious "Catholic" things, like Saints, or kneeling for communion.

Since then my faith journey has taken me from Southern Baptist to Coopertative Baptist... Methodist... PCUSA, ECO... and every now and then I'll crash an Episcopal service (which is soooo awkward --- there's nothing that says 'Book of Common wha?' like standing and kneeling at the wrong time.)

It's been a really interesting journey, though. I'm still a little fuzzy on the nuances of Reformed Theology and Presbyterian history, but then I'm not sure how many Presby folks know what I'm talking about when I drop Lottie Moon, Acteens, or State Sword Drill ('holla).

And it's made me really aware of church culture, worship styles, welcoming visitors... and how we sometimes confuse knowledge of church culture with knowledge of God.

I really want a T-shirt to wear when I crash out of town Christmas Eve services: "God and I are tight. Swear." 
Backside: "...but what if we weren't". Wham. Gotcha. 
Fine print: "Sorry I took your parking space."

Anyway... Lent wasn't something I grew up with; I picked it up somewhere around my 'Methodist' years. Which means I don't really have a standard way of practicing it and the rules have always been a little fuzzy. (True story: I only recently found out that Sundays "don't count" -- what?)

But as more people have crossed-over between denominations and faith practices, it seems like observing Lent has become less structured all around, even in the Catholic world -- giving things up, taking things on, traditional fasting, Facebook fasting... for discipline, for others, for God...

Oh yeah, God... another T-shirt idea: "Lent: It's more than a diet". Ha! It probably sounds judgy but it's cracking me up. It's also late. Sorry.

Right. So this year I am less sure about what to do about it. There are a lot of parallels that people use to frame Lent and they are almost always desert related -- 40 yrs of Israelite wanderings, Jesus' 40 days of fasting...

The thing is... it sort-of feels like I'm already in the wilderness, people. Life is about as stripped-down and as close to capacity as it can get.

I have tons of food limitations (Gluten and Dairy are my migraine triggers, and they are in everything. Did I tell you about that dream I had about peanut m&m's? It was glorious).

And I just don't have a lot of bandwidth to take on something new.

So what does Lent look like from here. And in this era of "choose your own Lenten adventure," what is Lent, anyways?

Helpfully, I received this in my email this week:
"Lent allows us to reflect on the amazing depths of God's love for us shown in Jesus Christ. The traditional practices of Lent, such as fasting and prayer, allow us the opportunity to discover what we desire more than we desire God, and more dearly attach ourselves to God and God's great love."

So if Lent is 40 days set aside to get to know God, the question is 'what would bring me closer to God and be reminded of His love for me.' And I think this year it's just simply old-school prayer.

Part of this time of 'wilderness' is that I don't feel very close to God when I pray. Which is not the truth of course, but I just don't feel it.

The words go up, and I know he hears them, and I know he sees me and sees all of this. I'm confident in that, but it's hard to keep sitting down to listen when I don't hear anything back.

Last year, as prayer seemed to grow dimmer I heard God more and more through studying Moses. There was a lot that I got out of it but I kept coming back to the idea that Moses' life was radically changed, more than once. Life in Egypt with the royal family, life watching sheep in Midian, and then leading the nation of Israel on The Longest Road Trip Ever.

His life became radically different. More than once. And it was okay. It was part of the plan. Which is crazy comforting when you find yourself in the middle of a radically different version of your own life.

This year's Bible study has been a little fuzzier. We're working through Revelation**, and other than 'take the long view', I'm just not getting a lot that's immediately relevant out of it.

So this year, I think the answer to Lent is prayer. Not giving up or taking on or doing more or spending less... but stillness. Stillness in God. Time in prayer. Even without an answer, even if it feels like a one-way conversation.

So I've arranged my grandmother's rocking chair, and grabbed my favorite throw, and printed out the church prayer list.

I think it's going to be good.

God has been full of surprises lately, rewarding my small clumsy steps of faith with much more than they deserve.

There are many days that I am done with this illness stuff. I am ready to move on. But God says not yet; "Not yet. Just wait. You don't even know what I'm working on." 

Fair enough.

In the meantime, there's prayer.

Are you observing Lent this year? What practices are you giving up or taking on? What are you hoping to hear or see or grow into?

**Random Note: I'm doing Revelation with a Bible Study group; Haven't been to the Sunday School class that's reading it yet... Either way, not a judgment on the study-groups, it's just a tough book!


  1. I've never practiced a Lent tradition either. But I did go to Ash Wednesday, and I understood the tradition of fasting (common during lent) is just one tool in our faith journey. And prayer is another tool.

  2. I gave up social media and email and radio and tv one year (not work email or work social media, just personal!). It was super great. A lot more silence. More reading and more talking to friends and family. One year I gave up a smart phone. That was a good experiment too. This year ... ???