Category Archives: Lent

Out of the Ashes

I’m not making any plans.  I’m not making any promises.  No schedules, no goals, no nothing.  I’m only here to say I’m thinking I might like to maybe write a blog post again. Every once in a while.  Maybe.  Or maybe just today.

I just went back and read my posts from last February where I talked about the RyLee Adventure in Colon Cancer.  I discovered there that I had discovered then (I’m a little rusty.  and tired.  bear with me.) that, apparently, there’s this pattern to my crazies.  Seems like lots of stuff gets stirred up in my life during the months of January and February and into March.  God comes in and shakes things up, stirs things up, makes some changes, leads us elsewhere, does something that leaves me feeling “Woah! what just happened there?!!”  Or, maybe that’s just how I see this year’s adventure.  I’m not sure it’s always been so LOUD AND IN MY FACE as it has been this year.

Yes.  Screaming.  God’s screaming in my face, but I don’t know what he’s saying.  Or it feels that way, anyway.  Perhaps it’s simply life that is screaming in my face and God’s there talking to me like always but I just can’t hear him for the screaming.

I don’t even know where to begin.  I did this last February and March.  Wrote about the crazy stuff that happened the previous January-March and how it led up to the stirrings of February through March of 2012.  And here I stand again.  Looking at this crazy pile of life and wondering where to begin to lay it all out.  Last year I did a handy dandy timeline.  I don’t feel so linear this year.

Another pattern I was thinking about the other day?  Lent.  Lent is a category in the menu over there on the right side of your screen.  Every year during Lent I pop on here and talk about my ambivalent relationship with Lent.  It’s often accompanied by some Grand Plan to blog every day.  I’m not even going to whisper such a suggestion this year.

Yet, here I am again. Thinking about Lent and my ambivalence toward it.  And here’s why I’m ambivalent:  I don’t want to observe it because I’d like to eschew all things Liturgical Calendar like a good Old School Presbyterian should (I’m not sure if I mean to say that I’m a bona fide Old School Presbyterian or if I mean to say I’m just kickin’ it ol’ school Presbyterian. either way . . . )  I’d like to eschew Lent.  As a creation of tradition, not Scripture.  Kinda like the church’s version of “Mother’s Day is just a ploy by Hallmark.”  Anyway, I’d like to eschew it (tell me that’s not just the funnest word ever, am I right?), and yet every year it seems I get shoved out into the desert during Lent.  To wander around and contemplate my vocation, and be tempted by Satan to just run far, far from God.  To thirst and hunger and experience a spiritual fast.  This year is no different.  In fact, this year might be the desertestest yet.

I’m in school now, you know.  Nearly a Master of Theology now.  They teach us fancy theological terms like desertestest here.

Where to begin to tell the story . . .

Well.  The past five months have brought me hurricane, ER-worthy injury to the small and vulnerable, pest infestation, flood, and fire.  All while I’ve been–in practice, not reality–a widowed mother to orphaned children.  This year my life decided to go Apocalyptic.  I might spend some time writing about that in these coming days or weeks or months.  Or I might not.

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because I said I would . . .

I started some other post today, but it just didn’t go anywhere.  So then I thought about taking Sundays off from my Lenten obligation observance.  Because, you know, Lent doesn’t include Sundays.  Because Sundays are the Lord’s Day.  The day we revel in the Resurrection.  Even during the dark days of Lent.  And how nice is that?!  In the midst of our time of discipline and repentance and intentional reflection on the wilderness days of our Lord, we have these shots of Light.  Every Sunday.  Because we’re just pretending here.  Not pretending . . . play-acting, maybe.  Because we are indeed embodying, and it doesn’t feel like any game.  But still.  It’s not the real story.  The struggle, the suffering, the guilt, the work:  it is finished.  It really is.  The trick is living like that is reality.  Living like it truly is finished.  That’s hard.  That’s really, really hard.  Because we look around us and life is difficult.  To quote one of my favorite movies, “Life is pain.”  It is.  There’s tragedy and mess all around us.

But life is not all there is.  This darkness, these difficulties, these challenges, these scary things . . . they do not get the final say.  They are, ultimately, finished.  That’s the hope we live for, that’s the hope we breathe for.

So, even in Lent, as we recall the darkness, as we wade through the sacrifices, as we work toward our goals, how fitting it is that we pause each First Day, and remember, that it is finished.  The sacrifice, the pain, the death, the uncertainty, the fear, the doubt.  It is finished.

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I don’t know why I ever make plans . . .

That can be the theme of my Lenten reflections, if my Lenten reflections take the direction I plan them to take.  But I don’t know why I ever make plans, because, for example, here it is the first day of my plan to reflect on the last year and the next year and the thing I want to write about has nothing to do with that.

But the title still works as my planned theme.  Just not necessarily as my theme for today.  Which, I suppose, just serves to support the implications of my title, which, in turn, then makes it a very appropriate title.

Carry on, now, Lee . . .

Very often when I’m reading Scripture, I have the voice of an antagonist in the back of my head.  He’s a nice antagonist, really.  But he’s there nonetheless.  His is often the voice of some Other I’ve been reading or hearing or thinking about lately.  And so as I read the passage of Scripture, I hear Scripture arguing against that Other.  I’m not sure if that makes sense, so I’ll just go ahead and get to the point.

This morning I was reading 2 Corinthians 1, when I was struck by verses 8-11:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers,of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (ESV)

And that’s when Mr. Antagonist popped up in my head.  And he was representing all those voices that say things like, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”  And, “God didn’t rescue you from that difficulty because you didn’t have faith that he would.”  Generally all those voices that make you feel like garbage when you have your doubts and fear death or utter destruction is near and you’re not sure how God’s going to pull you out of it, or if he’s going to.

In response to all those voices that beat you when you’re down, comes Paul’s own experience.  You know.  Paul.  The one whose words and witness shape most of the standards we set for our own faith.  Paul.  The one who was struck blind and saw the Lord himself!  Paul.  You know.  Paul.

Seems Paul suffered some afflictions and difficulties there in Asia.  So much so that it left Paul utterly burdened beyond his strength.  Paul!  despairing of life itself!  believing he had received a death sentence!  Paul.

Paul.

I know I’ve said his name so many times now that it looks like a foreign word or some weird line-up of letters.  But think about it!  This is Paul describing his experience in these terms:  life was so hard, it was more than I could bear, I thought for sure I was going to die! it was all over!

He doesn’t say, “We could have despaired, but we did not, because we knew God was going to rescue us! we had faith! and God honored our faith and rescued us!”  The summation of that, you realize, is “Yay our faith!”  But, nope.  That’s not what Paul says.  He says he and his companions were flattened.  In utter despair, certain of death, all but lost.

Ever been there?

I have.

Ever have someone say, “Buck up, Little Camper, it’s not so bad.  Where’s your faith?”

I have.

But that’s not what Paul is saying.  Without apology, he puts into clear terms where he found himself:  at rock bottom.  Period.

And then.

And then he was delivered.  Not because he cried out to God.  Not because he believed that God would deliver him.  No.  God, who raises the dead! delivered him.  The dead!  The lifeless!  The ones who can’t do one thing on their own because they. are. dead.  God.  Raises them.  Delivers them.

We don’t have to rely on ourselves, on our ability even to muster the strength to reach up and grab God’s hand that he’s extending.  No.  In the  midst of our own afflictions, whatever they may be, God! who raises the dead! will deliver us.

That.  That is comfort.  That is hope.  That is assurance.  That is Good News for little ol’, prone-to-despar-and-pessimism me.  And for you.

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Lent again . . .

I’ll be honest.  I kind of have an ambivalent relationship with the liturgical calendar.  On the one hand, I like the rhythm it adds to the year, and I find value in our telling and retelling and telling again the story of our faith.  It is an ancient practice of the Church, so, it’s hard to argue that it’s completely wrong.  And I never really try to say it’s completely wrong.  However.  My own background leaves me bristling at the blind following of tradition.  Of doing what we’ve always done because we’ve always done it.  It also leaves me bristling at our human tendency to enjoy making things harder on ourselves than we need to.  And from a more pragmatic standpoint, when a church follows the liturgical calendar so closely, particularly by faithfully following a lectionary for Sunday Scripture readings, I feel like we can end up missing the bigger picture.  Or like we can just get stuck in this 3-year loop.

Now that’s a lot of words up there.  And I don’t even know who reads my blog.  But I know that I have friends who are Roman Catholic and have followed the liturgical calendar their whole lives, and I have friends from other traditions who might have no idea what in the world I’m talking about.

So, I’ll just carry on with my point.  I, for years, have not participated in much of a Lenten discipline.  It’s not that I have a problem when someone else does it.  It’s not really rooted in any core conviction of my own.  I think it’s simply part of my own faith story.  It’s part of my own living out of “for freedom Christ has set us free.”  I don’t observe a Lenten discipline because I know it’s OK if I don’t.  Now.  I am not advocating my approach.  Nor I am I saying it’s right and good and holy.  It may very well be so steeped in sin that it’s coal black.  But that’s what I do.

So.  My point was?  I think my point was, I’d like to write every day as part of my Lenten non-observance.

And in case you think you’re having déjà vu, you’re not.  I just remembered I wrote about Lent two years ago.  Here.  And when I went back to read it just now, I was amused at my repeated use of the word ambivalent.

So, there you have it.  A plan to write every day.  Again.  We’ll see how I do this time.  I hope to write about the insanely crazy year we just came out of, as well as the insanely crazy year we are now entering.  God’s fingerprints are all over all of it.  Reflecting on it, swimming around in the thinkings of my life during these years, dredging through the wilderness places of this past year, and thinking long and hard about the unknowns that lie ahead . . . all of these things are bound to leave room for God’s Holy Spirit to renew my faith, to draw me closer.  And I pray that my reflections will do the same for some of my friends.

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Lent. Discipline. Or something like that . . .

I have this ambivalence about Lent.  I grew up in a world of “When you are fasting, make sure you tell everyone you know and look miserable and pious all at the same time.”  A philosophy in direct opposition to Matthew 6:16-18.  But the people who were doing it, I’m quite certain, had never read much if any of the Bible on their own, so what would they know?

There’s some bitterness in dem dere waters.

My Reformation at the Dining Room Table (Princeton, c. 1996) released me from the never-ending guilt of “What should I be doing?  What can I do?  How shall I make myself good enough?  Look how good I am!  Surely I must be earning God’s favor!”  And, therefore, I felt released from the pressures of Lent.  Sort of.

Lent, as I knew it, was part of earning, proving, showing, how great I was or, when I slipped up, how bad I was.  My Reformation led me away from Lent.  I was released from it.  No longer did I have to join in the parade of piety, with it’s seemingly arbitrary rules of display.  So I didn’t.  And I’ll be honest.  Ry and I have shared many a chuckle over steak in restaurants on Fridays, surrounded by plate after plate of fish or marinara sauce.

But those Lutherans.  Those Lutherans kept Lent.  And I’m fond of Lutherans.  And, my own denomination, having developed the practice of searching for babies that got tossed with bathwater, lifts up the observation of Lent.  So, I’m confronted with the challenge to revisit this whole Lent thing.

The thing is,  I don’t want to.  It’s actually one theological question I’ve left mostly tabled for the last ten years–and, believe my husband, there aren’t many of those.  In fact, I find myself wondering if this is the only one . . .

But this year I’m going to have to stare it down and come to terms with it.  This year, I am serving as the “pastor” of a church, providing pulpit leadership every Sunday.  So, it occurred to me yesterday–after having avoided the thought of Lent for the better part of the last month–that I really am going to have to put some thought into it, draw some conclusions.  Because on Sunday mornings, I’m going to be standing up in a church and talking at people.  And maybe they’re going to be waiting for me to mention Lent.  Or maybe they’re going to wonder why I don’t.  I don’t think just totally overlooking the season is going to be an option this year.

So.  I’ve read enough Lenten recommendations to see that we can think more broadly about Lenten disciplines than simply when to eat animals or not, and “giving up” something or other that may or may not cause us any anguish whatever.  I’ve read enough lovers of Lent suggest adding something to your life during Lent.  Adding something that will draw your mind more frequently to the One who has given you everything.

That I can handle.  So, I decided about two hours ago that maybe what I’ll add is blogging every day.  Every day?  Did I just say that?  I’d like to try.  And it’s not necessarily going to be theologizing every day.  I think simply the discipline of taking writing time every day, will be beneficial to me.  Will draw my mind to God who is a God of order, of seasons, of time.  He just is.  And as flaky as I am, as detached from time and space as I am, it would probably do me some good to find some rhythm in my time, to remember that God himself created these separate days and nights and set in place seasons and rhythms.

So there ya go.  I’m going to try to write every day.  Ideally at the same time.  Ha!  But at least every day.  To mark the days.  Evening and morning, day by day.  God is calling me to a more orderly existence right now, I feel it, I know it.  So maybe Lent is as good a time as any to be more mindful of it.   A word of warning, however.  Daily writing is going to make for some rambling posts.  🙂

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