Random thoughts at the close of Sunday...
Today, on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, worship was full and challenging - and after wards I needed to join a colleague and our wider ministerial group in "installing" a local pastor into her new ministry. As I move towards the last two weeks of Lent, I am feeling increasingly worn out - partly because our Jazz Band has been playing one or two gigs each week during Lent in addition to my church work - but also because of the demands of this season. To be fully present and engaged in Lent takes time and discernment - prayer and study - and some wandering in the wilderness, too.
One of the demands of the season is being open to death - not intentional change - but a death within the soul that comes from God and invites resurrection. It is beyond our control - rather like Richard Rohr speaks of in a recent morning reflection:
This strong one-liner of Jesus - I give no sign but the sing of Jonah - feels rather amazing and largely unheard. ... [Indeed] it is not a sign at all, but more an anti-sign. It demands that we release ourselves into the belly of darkness before we can know what is essential. It insists that the spiritual journey is more like giving up control than taking control. It might even be saying that others will often throw us overboard, and that we will get to the right shore by God’s grace more than right action on our part. ...
Jonah knew what God was doing, and how God does it, and how right God is—only after emerging from the belly of the whale. He has no message whatsoever to give until he has first endured the journey, the darkness, the spitting up on the right shore—all in spite of his best efforts to avoid these very things. Jonah indeed is our Judeo-Christian symbol of transformation. Jesus had found the Jonah story inspiring, no doubt, because it described almost perfectly what was happening to him!
Funny how it is still true after all these years of consciously entering a Holy Lent that I still don't want to give up control! I want to be in charge - of my life, my ministry, my family, my health, my time in worship - yet over and over again am shown how LITTLE control I really have. A young person makes an announcement in worship that is too long - and too simplistic - after I have worked so hard all week long to craft a moving spiritual experience. My understanding of how to be a good dad comes up short (again) with those I cherish the most just when I think I'm doing a great job because I really need to make closer connections. My family's health goes down the toilet (again) at a time when I don't have the energy, space or resources to help them out. My wife and I bounce a check (again) because we've been too busy with other important things to write down the little, everyday expenses that all add up and count. You know what I mean, yes?
And these are just the little deaths that remind us that control is elusive most of the time...
... sometimes I tell people who are carping or whining to me, "Stop, we could be in Afghanistan - or Japan - knock it off and get some perspective." And sometimes I need to say that to myself, too. Yes, this season is demanding - and focused on death and loss of control - and at the same time God's love is still visible and real in my life. So, come on, man: shut up! It really is NOT all about me, right?
Tomorrow I will spend the better part of the day working on the art for Good Friday - the visuals as well as the music - as we wrestle with the truth of betrayal and the Cross this year. We have a very powerful set of contemporary songs to work with - everything from my reworking of "Bad Moon Rising" in a minor key, Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Comes," Luka Bloom's "The One" and Benjamin Britten's "Lachrymosa" from his War Requiem to a haunting "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and an original composition by Brian about Jesus crying to God in the garden. We are getting very close to nailing the vocals and instrumentation with our little church band - and will be in good shape given two more practice times.
The bigger challenge is to create the visuals for this worship event - digital art as well as the physical art installations evoking the Garden of Gethsemane before the Cross - and this is where the hard work needs a lot of attention. As I write, my weariness is taking on some new perspective, as this is all a blessing. And as is often the case, maybe the best thing to do now is to return thanks and... shut up for a while.
It is like playing this song for the first time last week: Andy called it - I found it in the fake book - and freaked because I had never heard it. Well, I stumbled through the verse two choruses - and sat out for a verse - but then it started to take shape and form and the improvisations became fun and focused. Hmmm... more and more it is clear that I am not in control - and that is a GOOD thing - so shut up, listen and join in when you can.