Posts Tagged With: Lent

Lenten Hospitality

thMardi Gras and Easter vs. Lent and Good Friday.  When you think of inviting others to church this time of year many people are more drawn to welcome people to join in the excess of Mardi Gras or the elation of Easter than in the somber remembrance of Lent and Passion Week.  Don’t we want to invite people to church when they will see a celebration and can get caught up in the festivities?  We want to welcome people when think the church is at its best, which often means decorated, rehearsed, and filled with smiling faces.

Yet, maybe the observance of Lent opens up a needed hospitality that can be lacking in our churches when we focus on welcoming people to an upbeat, well planned event.  Though we may want to show off our church’s best side to visitors, if that’s the only side they see our churches soon become like any other institution that markets to the desires of possible consumers.  Lent can provide space for people to let down their outer shells created to please the external world.

Lent is a marginal, a liminal time.  We are between times, preparing for a story we know to expect, Jesus’ resurrection, but aren’t yet there in the church year.  During this time, we are walking with Jesus on his journey to the cross, a story not of triumph but of questioning, miscommunication, and doubt. During these times the readings show a Jesus who is open about what will be happening and shares his pain. He is suffering along with the people around him.

 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”   Matthew 23:37

Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  Matthew 26:38-39

Christine Pohl in her book Making Room writes that “Although we often think of hospitality as a tame and pleasant practice, Christian hospitality has always had a subversive, countercultural dimension” (61).  Inviting people into the church’s Lenten practices – whether that includes a time of self-reflection, singing hymns in minor keys, or a discipline of sacrifice – offers this countercultural dimension.  The time of Lent directs us to see ourselves as the sinners we are, to repent – and in turn to provide this gift that God offers to us to others.  It’s a safe place to let go and be who we are in brokenness, not who we or others imagine we are.

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Wounding Gift

Gifts are supposed to bring joy to life.  Make it easier.  Not bring on pain, right?

A cassette tape of Michael Card’s Scandalon album started as a simple birthday gift. Opening the attached card, I read the words from a friend.  Instead of celebration, the words were ones of good-bye.  How could this be?  A new friendship that had been growing was now over?

Throughout the next months I continued to question what I had done.  What broke apart this friendship?  At the same time I was confronting the reality of a new life.  In only months I would be graduating and leaving a college that had been a home.  Wounds were building up within my soul.

Other friends surrounded me and together we walked through this time of pain, not always looking pretty.  Ironically, one of the most comforting voices was that of Michael Card, from the gift that initiated a cascade of wounds.

His lyrics did not present a triumphant, victorious Jesus and followers, but the reality of following Jesus in the mire of life.  Over and over I listened to these words.

He will be the truth that will offend them one and all
A stone that makes men stumble
And a rock that makes them fall
Many will be broken so that He can make them whole
And many will be crushed and lose their own soul

As I looked around, I kept seeing broken people through my wounded eyes.  In the midst of this suffering, God’s presence started to grow more real.  Hearing these words brought to light a new sense of freedom that doesn’t hide behind a spiel of how life should be, but confronts the reality of how life is and the healing that is available.

Twenty-three years later I’m sitting only feet away from Michael Card at a concert.  During this season of Lent he is sharing his songs that journey through Jesus’ passion.  That again speak of wounds.

In this most holy place, He’s made a sacred space
For those who will enter in, and trust to cry out to Him
And you’ll find no curtain there, no reason left for fear
There’s perfect freedom here, to weep every unwept tear
– Come Lift Up Your Sorrows

As in earlier years, these past few months I had been looking for gifts to make life easier.  To take away and remove the difficulties of being in friendships, of trying to minister on campus, of dealing with caring for family members with cancer, and of being misunderstood.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that no external gift has worked to right these very human realities.  Yet, in the rush of the day-to-day it can seem more practical to quickly cover over these wounds in order to keep going.  They are irritants that need simply to disappear.

Throughout the concert/worship I’m alternately wiping my eyes in sorrow and smiling in joy.  The words of these songs are helping to uncover hidden wounds. Wounds I had handily hidden. I’m even imagining myself back in the dorm – and the pain that I originally associated with that cassette tape is now gone, replaced by the hope I found listening to these songs the first time.  I sense a new freedom, a freedom not possible by ignoring the brokenness.

These words of song are again a gift of wounding.  A wounding that ultimately heals through times of crying out and weeping with the One who cries and weeps with us.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

– Isaiah 53:5

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The Relief of Lent

The real man is at liberty to be his Creator’s creature.  To be conformed with the Incarnate is to have the right to be the man one really is.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Over the past weeks I’ve been to retreats, cooked meals, met new people, planned ministry events, been invited to dinners, made phone calls, spent time with friends, celebrated . . . and read, wrote, cleaned, organized finances . . . the list could go on.  It doesn’t take long before days, weeks, and months are overflowing with tasks.

It’s in the midst of such a hectic schedule that Lent is such a relief.  It’s a gift to have an expectation to give up something, slow down.

Time to reflect. To return to God.  To breathe again.

At the same time I also wonder how to describe Lent to people outside of the church – as well as to many people within.  It’s not a practice or festival that is in the Bible.  It also seems to run counter to the picture of hope and abundance that is often central to Christianity.  Does Jesus really want us to go around looking sorrowful and depriving ourselves?

No, but throughout his words there are many messages about repentance, carrying our crosses, and persecution.  These are not the jubilant voices of preachers on a Sunday morning or the comforting words of a friend.  They are the earnest pleadings of God wanting us to look at reality.  To see what is really before us, in all its brokenness, instead of painting false pictures.  A God who yearns to heal us.  In current western society that admires image, wants to create a better narrative no matter how far it is from reality, we need this call more than ever.

This is lent.  It provides a time to recalibrate the stories in our lives.  To remove the false versions of ourselves and others.  To see God as God is and ourselves as his creatures.    To step out of the daily routine.  It’s a time when it’s okay to reflect.  It’s okay to remove our masks as we hear we are ashes, we are dust.

What we each give up or take on isn’t as important as the practice of doing so – and Christ breaking into this time to reveal the Truth and to set us free.  Free to be broken and to step into this mess with Jesus in the midst.

How will you find relief and break from the routine in your life over the next weeks to open yourself to God’s calling to repent – see reality as it is and turn to Him?

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Taking Time to Pause

While listening to a sermon – and thinking about my plans for the afternoon, getting directions to the Art Museum off my iphone, and planning the days ahead – I heard the word statio.  My mind stopped racing for a moment to learn that statio is the spiritual practice of stopping between events to pause.  To be present.  As evidenced by my own poor attempts at multi-tasking, I could really use this practice.

As are many people, I’m often going from one activity to another in a rush.  While I hastily load my bag and run out the door, I hope the 15 minutes I allowed for a 20 minute commute will be enough.  There is no time to reflect and consider where I am going,  where I have been, or even where I am.  Somedays I get into bed unable to remember the previous 15 hours as one activity blurs into the next on these packed days.  My calendar is just too full to allow the extravagance of pausing, right?

Wrong.  My hurried transitions are probably not a symptom of too many important activities happening at once.  No. The activities are a symptom of a larger unease with myself.  As long as I’m active, or proving it by seeming busy, then I’m doing something of worth.  My life is okay.  But the worth is often a veneer if it’s primarily based on external activity.  I don’t take time to look around at the story I’m living now.  Who is the person with whom I’m going to have coffee and how is Christ appearing through her?  What is my response to the book I just finished?  What am I thinking?  Where am I now and what do I see, really see?

Even though I want to take time out, I often don’t get around to it.  I fear that taking even a small amount of time to look around may pull me away from the path I have carefully laid out or bring about uncomfortable vulnerability.  However, maybe the path needs to be changed.  Or, maybe I just need to be grateful and truly experience the beauty of the path.  The practice of pausing is a practice of place.  It roots one in the present moment.  Wouldn’t such a view of life be a relief?   In between events I can remember that I am human and God is God.

Statio.  It doesn’t sound like a lot.  It isn’t a week-long retreat, a day of sabbath, or even a morning quiet time.  As I now start rushing through Lent and the additional readings and activities only seen to add to the chaos of the day, maybe this is the one practice that can make a difference.  Just stop and pause for a minute.  Just be.

Be still, and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!  Psalm 46:10

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