a harsh beauty and clarity: Lent 2016

And so it begins - Ash Wednesday and the journey of Lent.  For some reason unknown to me, I am very ready for this penitential season to get rolling: it feels like another deepening in my soul. Last night, coming home from choir practice, Dianne said to me: Everywhere I look there are signs for Valentine's Day - red hearts and red lights - what about Lent?!?" I've been feeling much the same tension, too:  what about Lent?

Like Parker Palmer says about the spirituality of winter, so too for the stripped-down and humble way of Lent. In the closing essay of Listening to Your Life, he writes that besides the quiet and the stark, simple beauty of this season: 

Winter has an even greater gift to give. It comes when the sky is clear, the sun brilliant, the trees bare, and the first snow yet to come. It is the gift of utter clarity. In winter, one can walk into woods that had been opaque with summer growth only a few months earlier and see the trees clearly, singly and together, and see the ground that they are rooted in.  

There is no fluff, no bullshit, nothing extraneous or convoluted about Lent. As in all death, there is a unique clarity offered to us in Lent that is a gift albeit a profoundly unsentimental one. Palmer writes that "winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us the chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being." Such clarity and truth could hold meaning for our relationships, our vocation, our spirituality, politics or even our emotional well-being. For at the core of Lent is the unambiguous call to "pick up our Cross and follow Jesus." Fr. Ed Hays has prayed that "all too often we reject our Cross that is prepared for us because we have judged it too heavy, too shameful or gauged its burden to be too much for us" at this moment in time. He continues:

May we learn how our Cross has a secret purpose in your sacred scheme of healing and hope, O Lord, that our lives might be aligned with the liberation of the world.

That is what is grabbing my imagination and heart this Lent: learning how the Cross I have been given both aligns my life with the Lord's and contributes to the liberation of the world. Today, at midday Eucharist, we spent time with Psalm 51: create in my a clean heart, O God. One of the reasons I think this simple and quiet gathering holds such appeal is that we do lectio divina - sacred reading - where everyone gets to share what ever they are feeling about the scripture. There are no obviously right or wrong feelings about how a particular text strikes you on any given day. There is just the moment saturated in God's gracious presence - and then the feast. Like 21st century monastics, we silently slip into the Chancel, pick up our liturgy and Psalter and take in the stillness at noon. .We sing a capella, we read antiphonally and wait for the Spirit to lead our sharing. The beauty of winter - and Lent - guide the hour.

When the candles were extinguished and I was washing the chalice, I thought back to Fr. Richard Rohr writing for today re: "an alternative orthodoxy." He posted that while much of Christianity is concerned with redemption, the way of St. Francis starts with incarnation. In the birth of Jesus at Christmas there is already Easter because the incarnation affirms that what has been created is already good and filled with God's blessing. I sense this every time our small group gathers to honor - and become - the Body of Christ. Rohr concludes with this:

For much of Christian history we've severely limited people's in-depth experience of God by making religious faith largely into a set of mental abstractions. We split the mind from the body and both of them from the spirit. Many of us are now victims of not knowing how to receive, access, enjoy, suffer, and appreciate what can only be known in its wholeness. No wonder so many have left the church, doubt the truth of Christianity, become practical materialists inside the church (including many clergy) or agnostics and atheists outside the church (including many who are actual "believers"). I am not sure which is sadder. What they seem to affirm or seem to reject is too often not the real thing anyway. As wise Augustine said in the 4th century, "God has many that the church does not have; and the church has many that God does not have." Any who put body and spirit together are already "had" by God! They are privileged to "carry in their bodies the very brand marks of Jesus" (Galatians 6:17).

One of the small signs of hope that I see is midday Eucharist:  it is not powerful, it has no pretense of being exciting, and it changes very little in the grand scheme of our congregation's culture. But, like Christmas, it is a tender sign of God's quiet presence growing within and among us. We will bring the spirituality of midday Eucharist to Sunday morning during Lent with one addition:  walking meditation and body prayer. Today we closed singing an Iona reworking of St. Patrick's Breastplate to the tune of "Morning Has Broken."

Christ be beside me, Christ be before me, Christ be behind me:  King of my heart.
Christ be within me, Christ be below me, Christ be above me: never to part.

Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand, Christ all around me:\
 shield in the strife.
Christ in my sleeping Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising: light of my life.


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