Archives for posts with tag: Lent

Beads have been scattered, cake crumbs ground into the floor; and now it is time to clean up after the party. Today marks the beginning of Lent. I am a thoroughly Protestant person, which means that while I do not have a long history of having to give up chocolate or sweets, it is more difficult for me to participate in a way that makes Lent meaningful. No matter how sincere, doing something for Lent always feels like I’m crashing in on someone else’s gig. Not only that, if I don’t follow through, it doesn’t really matter (or so it seems).

But this year I am taking a course on the Eucharist in which we will be tracing its liturgical history. In an interesting fate of timing, we arrive at the Reformation during Holy Week. With that in mind, my goal this year is to make the bread and the wine my Lenten reflection. Hopefully I’ll get some of those thoughts transcribed from my journal (and polished a little) to post here.

As I study liturgies of the very early church–even the biblical texts–demonstrate some ambiguity around how Jesus followers are to partake in the bread and the wine. Sometimes, simply bread is broken (Acts 2.42, 46; 20.7). Paul directs the Corinthians to make the meal more equitable by reiterating the institution narrative (1 Corinthians 10-11). In some of these texts, it may not be entirely clear if the meal was open to those who had not been baptized into the community–a requirement which the Didache states beyond a doubt. Most surprisingly, the phrase “on the night Jesus was betrayed…” is not always present (true for the Anaphora of Addai and Mari).

After Vatican II there has been a reorientation around the communion table that has spread across North American denominations and nondenominations. Yet, what is it we are celebrating? Or are we simply remembering? Is the Lord’s table fenced, or can we dine with sinners and the unbaptized? Do traditions matter? Whose feast is this, really?

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Black Hole, part 8

I work in retail. Any time we leave the building we have to do a bag check. Since I’m in the office, I have the privilege of scanning people’s bags. The insides of bags can be fascinating, though I have yet to make an earnest study of them. The other day I scanned a purse and saw a bunch of lemons. So, I made a comment about whiskey sours to which my young coworker said, “Not likely, I’m pregnant!” She’s only about ten weeks along and hasn’t announced anything. But in that moment, when it was just us looking into the contents of her purse, I provided the perfect set up for her to share the good news.

Recently I’ve been preoccupied with grad school rejection letters, needing to prepare a presentation, and trying to figure out if the acceptance with partial funding is viable. Yes, I received one enthusiastic acceptance to a PhD program, which makes me smile. Yet that one acceptance pulls on a tangle of decisions the likes of which, in all my years of knitting, I have never seen such a mess. My smile quickly fades. There is a possibility that grad school won’t work out, taking me to yet a new level of barrenness. There is a possibility that I will try and fail. There is a possibility that my husband will let go of a good thing here for something mediocre there. What is the next faithful step when staying is good for one and leaving good for the other?

What does not factor into our decisions is the thought that maybe, just maybe, we’ll be surprised by a bundle of joy. As I approach my 40th birthday, limitations of mortality significantly reign in any such hope. Our hearts have given up. To be honest, we simply cannot give any consideration to the ‘what if’ of children. Perhaps that sounds like an excuse, yet sometimes I am relieved that I have not had to subject a little person to my emotional shortcomings. Speaking with my future advisor, she asked if we have children and I said, no. Her next comment about that making a move simpler is true, albeit that much more painful. Sometimes I wonder what life would look like if we were parents. I must admit, it would certainly be more complicated. Sometimes I almost start to think it’s nearing time to take measures to avoid an “accidental” pregnancy. But that’s another level, and neither I nor my husband are there. Not yet.

But before the relief of a simpler life settles in, I feel the backlash of conflicting emotions. Becoming a parent is taken for granted in social discourse. Of course it will happen…eventually. Even the few infertility bloggers I started following in the last year have since become pregnant, along with so many acquaintances ten years (plus) my junior. I have hidden various Facebook friends and try to limit my interaction there to simply once or twice a week. Sometimes the voyeur gets the better of me, though, which usually results in getting smacked in the face with a baby announcement or newborn picture at the top of my news feed. Pregnant women are everywhere. The shopping center where I work is a maternity mecca. There is no escape. And so I am faced with two choices: bitterness or a deep dive into grieving that leads..somewhere.

Giving up is the very thing Americans are taught to never do. But for my health and sanity, it is time for me to give up on the wish for getting pregnant and having children of my own. Since we have already decided assisted reproductive technologies are beyond our means, the next faithful step through the black hole of infertility is just that: through it. Grieving, giving up, finding a new hope, God willing. Death is an essential element in new life; I am reminded of this especially as we draw near to Good Friday.

And so we have this hope: that God our Creator will form in the rubble of our hearts seeds that, with tears from grieving, will sprout and grow something new and wonderful. May it be so, and may it be soon.

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Week four of Lent. It’s a slog.

In college I started thinking about the Lenten season in relationship to my annual desire to hibernate. It just makes sense that once a year we dial back on our activities, refocus our thoughts and efforts inward and upward, and generally chill out for a while. Yet Lent is more than that. It’s abstaining from something that would be a normal part of our every day, like comfort foods, or taking on something that we feel should be there more often, like prayer. After a while that part of our brain that courageously says, ‘may God be glorified in this small offering,’ wears down, grows quiet, and the thoughts switch to, ‘why did I choose this practice? …what am I learning, really?’ The daily frenetic strains of life continue to sweep us through calendar weeks, only to arrive at a harried landing long enough to wonder what in the world we’re doing. It isn’t Easter yet, I still can’t have that chocolate, or go on Facebook to check just one thing, or enjoy a happy hour cocktail. We have arrived at that point in winter when it seems better to give up Lent than to continue giving up our sacrifice.

After all, what are we doing this for, anyway? Why walk the road of self-denial when we’re nowhere near Jerusalem? What do I expect to glean from a season of scarcity?

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John recounts a heartbreaking exchange between Jesus and Philip (14:8-9). Jesus has just responded to Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.” So Philip pipes in, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” That phrase, “we will be satisfied” haunts me. It mimics the time when the Israelites were in the desert longing for the rations of slavery. It’s an image of the recurring moment when the people of God are utterly blind to what’s among them/us. When we’re so close to Immanuel we could touch him, and even that is not sufficient.

Hans Frei, in The Identity of Jesus Christ, writes this on the contradiction of Jesus’ presence and distance as we see it played out from Gethsemane to Easter Sunday:

For whomever it becomes the truth it does so not by imaginative obliteration of time but by hammering out a shape of life patterned after its own shape. That does not mean that we repeat the original events literally in our lives, and certainly not completely, but it means that our lives reflect the story as in a glass darkly. …Reenactment can no more make him present than the passage of time can bear him away.

Jesus’ refrain found in John, believe in God, believe also in me, is essential for Lent. Immanuel, whom we celebrated in Advent, is still with us in Lent. The way to belief is through both the zenith and nadir of winter. We believe that he was born to Mary, that he lived and walked as any human on the earth, that he faced death and was crucified, dead and buried. We believe in his presence not just for that time in Roman occupied Judea, but also for today.

As we walk through Lent, be encouraged that this is far more than a morbid preoccupation with denial and sacrifice. Now is when we ask ourselves questions of belief: has Jesus been with us all this time? How do I know? What signs do I see of his nearness? Would he ask of me what he asked of Philip? Does my life murkily reflect the great parabolic story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection?

Peace be with you.