I am most grateful today for the ice storm which brought forced rest into my life this week. This rest allowed time for reflection, which seems like the most appropriate way to honor Shrove Tuesday as I prepare to enter into Lent. You may wonder why someone who is so very Baptist might observe a liturgical season such as Lent. However, it is my very autonomy as a Baptist which allows me the latitude to explore seasons that would more typically be observed by higher churches, like The Episcopal Church or the Catholic Church.
Lent looks pretty different for the diversity of folks who observe it. Some folks are more comfortable adding something to their routines/ lives to focus on God, while other folks remove routine items/ practices so that they may better focus on God. Either way, the idea is to prepare yourself spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically for the high Holy day of Easter, the day of celebration of the resurrection of the Christ. This is the day, which I believe theologically, that the Creator God gave a finality to Death (read: evil, sin, and greed) insofar as saying “Death does not win.”
Practically, Lent can be a structured time (six weeks) that one brings a level of discipline to one’s life which, oddly enough, creates liberation. I use liberation here to mean a time where one is freed from the rat race that one’s life can snowball into in pursuit of the completion of the eternal to-do list, the pursuit of self-affirmation through external sources (especially other people), or even the pursuit of service to others. In naming these things, it is easy to see that though they may not necessarily be harmful, however, the pursuit of them necessarily detracts from the pursuit of their opposites (ie. stillness; self-affirmation through internal/ spiritual means; self-care). These lists may not be entirely fair, but I suspect they are plausible enough that they sound familiar.
So alas, here is my impetus to observe the Holy Lenten season. Most simply put:
I want God.
I want to prepare myself (as much as possible in my feebleness) for the observance of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Eternal Word, the Son, the second person of the Triune God, Christ Jesus. I want to slow myself so that I may open myself to the mystery of grace, mercy, and love that the Creator God, the first person of the Triune, gifted creation with in the act of the Incarnation. Because of this act, God, Emmanuel is with us. This is a gift that I must seriously consider in the next six weeks.
To find a starting point for my Lent practice, I dwell on the words of an Anglican systematic theologian, Sarah Coakley. For Coakley, contemplation (which she classifies as an ascetic discipline) must be a serious endeavor in a Christian’s life. She defines contemplation as particular kind of prayer, wherein one repeatedly waits on God in silence. This practice cultivates the work of the Spirit, the third person of the Triune, who is often reduced to fluff, but who is actually a fierce subverter of powerful and evil institutions. Further, contemplation is a vulnerable act as one sits and receives the divine gifts that God gives, but in this process, the self is expanded. This makes much sense to me; when one is quiet and open, one can see much more about oneself and the world than one could in the midst performing a series of tasks.
I foresee this practice of contemplation (along with the removal of activities which preclude me from contemplation), as being a dear companion through the journey of Lent. I want God. I want to be opened, filled, humbled, and challenged by the Creator who first prepared this journey for me. My prayer is that this season would be as meaningful for you as I hope it will be for me. May we sustain ourselves through this Lenten season with the richness of God’s mercy, God’s justice-making, and God’s Love.
In closing, I’ll leave you with a last quote from Coakley, which can be easily re-written into a prayer:
Contemplation makes great ethical demands– to lose one’s life in order to gain it, to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemies. It is not a form of disengagement, but of passionate reordered engagement.1
May it ever be so.
1) Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity‘ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) 340-344.