A Slow, Low Walk in Lent

(Reposted from 3.6.19 BC)

When the holes of self become seen and embraced, when the grief is given over to, and we split the bill of life, there lays the possibility for shalom wholeness.

I can see no way forward without looking at our pain; I can realize no greater integrity and fullness by denying the truth.

Ash Wednesday’s kick off of Lent is a great collective recommitment to making room for death and dying. Instead of passing time, we mark time, in a way that opens and reveals. It requires individual work and reflection, but it is not a solitary endeavor. It is an ancient rhythm, a group pilgrimage. We together face calvary before the empty tomb, a wide and long caravan, spanning over the ages, linked by the gravity of human suffering and depravity.

It is not too hard to detect this.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

It is very easy to take ourselves too seriously, which is to say, we start denying ourselves of self-awareness and spiritual integrity. In our piety, we reject our feelings. On our pedestal, we let our fears drive us. Amongst our people, we sustain an image that wedges dynamite between the appearance and the person; a small situation, an innocuous question, and explosions occur.

It is also easy to take ourselves too lightly, particularly when we are accustomed to being dismissed. Our sadness is illegitimate, and so is our happiness. Our dreams are selfish; self help is a curse word. The abuse we have sustained is no big deal. Our gut is gagged. Our bodies are unknown and unloved.

Both of these are not the death and dying of Lent. Lent is shape and those are chaos. Lent is a trajectory, and those are a spiral. Lent is going to become liberation; those are isolation.

Which is a meandering way to get at the importance of the observance of lent as a part of a group, oriented in a faith tradition or family, stuck in a stream that is larger that one’s own vices and virtuous flat affect. Some of us are new in learning the church calendar; we only knew about 4th of July and Easter and Christmas Eve. We didn’t walk this lenten lowly walk as children, and so we are children today. Lucky for us, the Good News has always been for the least and littlest. The ones lacking inhibitions and who give thought and pause to lots of silly things and curiously consider their big toe. The least, who haven’t started collecting all the shoulds and trophies and filters.

If we follow in the footsteps of the suffering Christ, the weeping mother, the ancient way, we may just become reacquainted with our own brokenness. We can only hope. For on this path, initiated with ash, we find there is room to look at the somber truth of ourselves and the brokenness of our hearts. We find there is room to confess the dirtiest of sins and grieve the most hushed of abuses. We find there is room, in a faith featuring a long suffering Savior, to be our self–not too big, not to small–with others. Here we are reminded, the invitation is not to not be sad or tired, but to not be lonely and stuck.

On this joint pilgrimage of Lent, our broken pieces melt a little into one another and the whispered laments gain a little strength. The ash on my forehead seems similar to yours, and yours doesn’t make me love you less but more. Sorrow and grief turn out to not be the monsters we so long avoided, but the markers of a beloved humanity bursting with attachments and vulnerabilities…like a crying Jesus or collapsing Mary. Praise be.

Oh, here in the dust and dirt! Here in the honesty with one’s mess, here linked relentlessly to one another! Here grow the Easter lilies. Oh, here, here we must be again, because we forget this is where it begins.

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Recommended hands to hold during your lenten journey:

Rachel Held Evans – Lent for Lamenting – a late biblical scholar and author of major lifelines for me (Inspired and Searching for Sunday), Evans posted throughout Lent her resources for guiding this time of lament, particularly for those of us who feel “on the outs” with our church history, our church, our extended family, our faith, or God Themselves. This is especially poignant since Rachel has died, and left behind a legacy of inclusion and justice.

Christena Cleveland – 7 Last Words of Christ our Black Mother – public theologian, social psychologist, and justice-oriented believer, she is de-centering the perceived male whiteness of the crucified Christ in her project. Focusing on the 7 last words of Christ, in black church tradition, she imaginatively reinvigorates our beliefs and perceptions of calvary and Easter. Introduction linked but full series available by becoming a patron of this change-maker (as little as $2/month).

Dominique Gilliard and Erina Kim-Eubanks – Lenten Lamentations – an incredible resource meant to help guide those of us wanting to remember rightly and allow for disruption along their lenten journey. If truth is the only actual way forward, and we know Easter is ahead, perhaps we will have the courage to be truthful about our past. This series brings to light pieces of our country’s broken racial history that require deep, collective lament; looking at them to remember rightly will only further attach us to our need for the Divine and our connection to one another—sounds holy. There is also a congregational liturgy to use in conjunction with this sobering, truthful guide.

Holding Hands on an Ash Covered Path

When the holes of self become seen and embraced, when the grief is given over to, and we split the bill of life, there lays the possibility for shalom wholeness. I can see no way forward without looking at our … Continue reading

Ash Wednesday

It is a time of digging deep and bearing down; a time to look at the dust on our arms, the bruises to our vision and pray, however we can, for saving. The cumulative laments and brokenness have their welcome here; bring your ashes and rags–it is a brutal fight for faith.

Today we begin with a renewed collective spirit to join hands across the graves of our lives. We reach out knowing that the suffering has changed us and we carry it, and we look forward to a time, a resurrection, when that suffering will have improved us. We are not too hurting to know that we have caused sorrow ourselves, and this too drives us forward, discontent and restless.

This year, when I read with many other saints Matthew 6, these words make me wonder:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The secrets of the year leading up to this Lenten season are too many, many unspoken. We are dizzy with all the unknowing. It seems cracked and hurting to look at some of those secrets–to see the destruction, the disappointments, and the lonely, stranded places.

Here, in this verse, the secret is holy. The secret place is a refuge, a reward–something where the Unseen is interacting with the seen, the Infinite with the finite. Here, the quiet darkness and solitude–what was looked down on by the religious–is esteemed. The chapter suggests that only when morality and virtue comes out of a secret place, a deeply transformed character, is it the light that shines that Jesus spoke of in the chapter before. Only when the behaviors are unknown and unnoticeable to the disciple herself can the security of the birds of the air, the confidence of the lilies of the field, be hers. So accepting of and accepted by God’s Kingdom is she that she has lost her insecure false self and gained an orientation of abundance rooted in faith. Scarcity and self-protection have been replaced and she is free to be spiritually formed by quiet disciplines and spiritually active in unobserved ways.

Could I find Him in the secret questions, doubts and fears that still haunt us? That rear up when I receive an unexpected phone call, recounting more lies about our story? That make me pause in the middle of some songs, some readings, because I don’t know those things any more and I’m not sure if they are true? Those ashes, the debris of a busted up world, that we each bring with us, from the news, from our marriages, from our hurting churches, to this strange Ash Wednesday? Could we find Him here, in the secrets–in those experiences and tragedies that have been as, if not more, transcendent and impacting on us than anything else?

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. Psalm 71:20

The beginnings of this season are humble. And they are wide. All are invited to bring their mess, to bring the death that has happened, into the sanctuary. Ash Wednesday and Matthew 6 and being a disciple are all about not doing things right, not having things figured out, and still finding ourselves welcomed on a journey of death becoming life. We are best prepared when we have been put in touch with our own depravity and fragility. When all that is seen is not rescue enough for what is unseen.

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Today we take the first step in an awkward dance of self-forgetfulness, which is to say, freedom. A mysterious and secret, yet collective and traditional, meeting. My laments, my failures, my pride, and all the shaky ways I prop up my self-image and facades of safety are accepted and loved and gently, secretly, replaced. In exchange I am freed to take part in a character, a light and a love that calls to the margins and calms my true self that remains. A economy of abundance that I cannot understand with the previous coverings.

Again, I am headed to the steeple of love, the cross, and every time it is a disarming, mysterious journey.