Spiritual Practice: Reimagining Lent

 

afterglow backlit beautiful crescent moon

I did not grow up in a church that celebrated or marked the Christian liturgical calendar. Well, I did not grow up in a church at all, but later, when I did attend church, it was one of those big box non-denominational churches that didn’t pay attention to the church calendar. In fact, we skipped right over Lent and Good Friday and went straight to Easter. It was Happy Clappy Christianity, baby. But life is not all roses and it’s good to have time to mourn, grieve, and contemplate change.

When people talked about Lent, it was a mystery to me — still is a bit. It just seemed like a difficult time when people gave up chocolate or alcohol and were miserable. When I first tried lent, I gave up sugar, just in time for a week at camp with college students who were happily eating sugar all week. I. Was. Miserable! And, worse, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it.

christian year

So, let’s break it down and re-imagine what Lent can be. Here is a handy picture of the church year, aka the Christian calendar. On it, you’ll see that Lent is the forty-day period of time when we contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus and prepare our hearts for Easter resurrection. During that time, Jesus knew he was heading to the cross and he was saying the things he most wanted us to hear and remember. “Love one another, serve each other, share food with your enemies…” It’s a good time to re-read those last words.  My pastor, Kris Gallagher, calls Lent, “Christian Spring Training.”

People fast during lent as a reminder of the season and to identify with Christ’s forty- days in the wilderness. It is a time to reflect, review your life, and perhaps prepare to make some changes. It is the season of spring where new life is about to break forth in the earth; we need to be prepared for new growth in our lives too.

If we are giving something up for Lent, Pastor Kris encourages us to ask, “what for?” If you are giving up chocolate or coffee, what is it for? If you eat a lot of chocolate or drink a lot of coffee, you can take that money and give it to someone who is struggling. That’s a good “what for.”

fasting from pope francis

You can also think of adding something to your Lent instead of merely giving something up. Or both, as in the above list from Pope Francis. Try adding a season of gratefulness or thank-you note writing, or make a commitment to listen deeply to someone each day. I love the idea of adding something new during Lent instead of giving something up. Whatever you choose, it can be a mindfulness exercise to keep you present to God, to yourself, and to others during this season. Who wants to join me in trying something new for Lent this year?

Let me know what Lent means to you and how you are trying to reimagine it this season.

 

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Spiritual Practice – Seeing God In All Living Things

beautiful bloom blooming blossom

 

I’m just back from a weekend with John Philip Newell, a Celtic Poet, Peacemaker, Minister, and Scholar. He’s the author of one of my favorite books, The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings. When I read this book my heart rejoiced, saying, “These are my people!” The words he wrote spoke deeply to the kind of faith my faith has evolved into. I didn’t know this, but apparently, it’s a Celtic faith. Early Scottish Christianity was a holistic and valued caring for the earth and acknowledging the divine in all people. This kind of faith was eventually opposed and suppressed by the church that had founded the Scottish church, the Roman Catholic Church.  Now, this ancient Celtic Christian stream is reemerging at a time we need it most, as care for the earth has never been more important.

john philip newell

The Celtic Christians say we see God in all things. I’m not talking about pantheism, I’m talking about pan-en-theism: Not that everything is God, but God is in all living things. It’s about the very light that spoke the universe into being existing at the heart of all created things. Newell says we all know this; we just need to be reminded. At the heart of all living things, is light and love and divine spark.

Here’s a practice you can try to get in touch with that of God in everything. Find a place outside, sit and look at something, a tree, a flower, a blade of grass. Then say, I’m here God, I’m listening. Then be present to that thing, ask yourself what do you see, what do you notice, what might you learn from this created thing?

We did this during my weekend with John Philip. I found an oak tree, gnarled and unruly, with branches stretching up in many directions. I felt drawn to get as close to it as I could. I climbed up, studied the branches, felt the texture, admired its rough bark, sniffed it and the soft lichens that lived on it. It stood next to a beautiful tall and stately pine tree, but I realized that I was much more like the oak. My life had taken many twisted paths, not a straight and beautiful one, but much more interesting. I wasn’t beautiful anymore, but strong, sturdy, full of life and providing a safe place for others. There was even an empty nest at the top of that oak tree. I felt the tree was as happy to be with me as I was with it, and I remembered my childhood of climbing oaks and the wonder and joy of it all.

me in tree

One of my granddaughters likes to be in my lap. She’s nine years old and very tall, 4’8” already. She is all elbows and knees, but she wants to be as close to me as she physically can. She balls into my lap and presses her cheek to mine as if she just can’t get close enough. I treasure this because by next year she might not be interested in sitting in Nana’s lap. But that is how I felt with that tree, like I just couldn’t get close enough. It was beautiful.

Each person at the retreat had some kind of loving interaction with the life around us. It’s so easy to go through life with blinders on, not seeing the beauty of the clouds, the wonder of snow on the mountains, or wildflowers in a field.

Try that this week. Take your blinders off. Walk slowly. Sit, if you can, and listen. Look for that divine spark in all living things and let me know how it goes.

 

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