Holy Week begins today, and so Lent draws near to its conclusion. Because of our physical distancing, I suspect the "Lenten" blog will continue beyond this season and into ordinary time, if our future could be called ordinary. We may yet post "big" questions here as well as spiritual practices you may want to consider. Today, I'm uploading a resource for Holy Week, a guide to reflection I received from some friends of mine. The attached file contains nine articles from the Christian Century along with prompts for discussion and reflection. I'll be reading along with you and if you have thoughts or comments, you can post them here and I'll be happy to respond.
May your week be encouraging and inspiring. I hope to be with you on Friday at 7pm for the U2Charist. It promises to be special this year, with a more intimate style coming to you through your personal screen.
NOTE: During this time of staying home more than usual, it may seem like too much to ask to add fasting in any form as a practice. However, you may find it a useful way to have a more mindful existence in a time when waiting for the next announcement is the norm. I hope you find this enlightening in some way.
From ancient discipline to modern trend.
Fasting, what we know as refraining from ingesting food, can seem overwhelming and annoying. Yet this ancient practice has many potential health benefits as well as a long history of promoting spiritual growth. When we refrain from consumption of any kind, we are emptying ourselves. Ultimately, if we stop indulging ourselves, we become more open to others. Consider ways to fast that may not involve food.
OVERINDULGENCE—Whatever we do too much, whether its eating, drinking or staring at a screen. I would have suggested less time withthe TV or social media, but in our current situation with social distancing, we need these connections more than ever. So, "fasting" becomes finding ways to use these tools that bring more meaning to our lives - reaching out to one another in comfort, making peace across the air waves. Consider cutting back on water usage or some thing that is a needless drain of time and energy. Fill the empty space with an activity aimed at helping someone else.
CONSUMPTION—We live in a world that always wants more. More food, more clothing, more wealth, more happiness. Say NO to the culture of consumption. Ask what you could live without for the period of Lent. It might be fast food, or the 24 hour cycle of news or compulsive purchases. Now is a good time to be more mindful of how we use our resources, what food we buy, what information we ingest and implement. Meditate on ways to use your resources for the good of many.
EATING—If you want to practice a more traditional fast, it can be very rewarding to follow a common ritual practiced by many religious groups. Fast from sundown to sundown, perhaps beginning Thursday after the evening meal and taking the Friday evening meal a full 24 hours later. Remember to drink plenty of water and focus time, thoughts and energy on what the Spirit might be leading you to do.
AS A PRACTICE FOR FAMILIES AND CHILDREN
Saying NO to a culture of consumption.
Fasting doesn’t have to only be about food. We live in a time when using up resources in an attempt to get more and more for ourselves is normal and often praised as an admirable goal. Information is fed to us faster than we can take it in. Entertainment is of more value than serving one another. During this season of Lent, what if we stop consuming? Whether it is TV, phones, apps, games, social media or any of the countless activities that drain our time and energy, consider “fasting “ from something, your choice, but fill the empty space with a worthy pursuit—pray for guidance, work for peace, serve each other in love. Come up for air...
How do you first react when you read the word “repentance?”
For many of us, it might be with a squirm or a flinch. Slight, probably, but some small shiver of discomfort, nonetheless. Because many of us have years of associating certain feelings with that word, and most of the feelings aren’t good. They are, in fact, pretty BAD. Right? Repentance calls us to change by first feeling real, real BAD about ourselves. We have done wrong, and WE REPENT.
But that’s not a fair take on the word as Jesus used it. And it might be helpful, to so many of us, to consider what specific language Jesus uses when He speaks the words: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
The Greek word Jesus actually spoke is one he made up – a compound of two other, more common terms. It looks, in English, like “metanoia:” pronounced met-ah–noy-ah. Metanoia has come to be understood as a command – to change one’s mind or purpose. Most literally, it means “to be changed after being with…” or “to think differently afterwards.”
And both those ideas are beautiful to me. To consider that we would be changed after being in the presence of Jesus? Yeah! I’d think so. And that I could think differently after an encounter with Jesus? I bet!
In this way of seeing “repent” – it’s simply what we do whenever we encounter a better, higher way – we lean in the direction of THAT WAY, as opposed to the way we were headed before.
Much of the work Jesus did in the communities he visited was to reunite people. To put back together breaches that had grown up between who was “in” and “out,” who was “holy” and not, who was acceptable and who were unredeemable sinners. We talk about Jesus breaking down barriers and valuing all people…. but what did that practically look like, “on the ground,” in the places he walked? It looked like bringing suffering and afflicted people back into the fold of family and community support. It looked like a call to end ostracism and judgement. It looked like modeling new ways to create space for people and to exist, in peace, together.
Sometimes, we cause breaches in community and in the peace. Sometimes, we turn from the best and highest way, to take our own way. Sometimes, we serve self at the expense of others. And that’s when Jesus’ call rings out – not to stop, drop and wallow in shame but to NOTICE ANOTHER WAY. “Repent,” Jesus says. “See what I do, here? It is Kingdom work. Bringing the Kingdom of Heaven near. Come and see it, with me. Experience this new life with me, then change your mind. Change your way. Be forever changed.”
That’s how I now hear the word “repentance.” As a call to change directions… to rethink or think again, bigger…. To open up my mind to someone else and something else – some other parallel reality – God wants me to see. If God is showing me something I got wrong and could make better, the first step to “better” is always right at hand. It usually takes the smallest shift or act. I first realize my current actions are holding this future good at bay. But my change can bring it closer.
Sometimes, I am wrong. But I REPENT. And the Kingdom of Heaven rejoices as it comes closer and closer to hand.
So… what associations do you bring to the word “repent?” How have they changed over time? I look forward to hearing from you!
--Rev. Ginger Brandt
As part of our Lenten observances for 2020, we will post weekly practices here in conjunction with the "big Ideas" being discussed. These practices will also be available in a handout Sunday morning. Week one is The Examen. It is to be practiced daily, but if introducing a daily practice seems like a lot, try it once a week, along with some of the other practices we will be suggesting. You can post your own observations and experiences in the comments below. We look forward to hearing about your practice.
Prayer for our time, following the 15th century practice of St Ignatius
BACKGROUND: Ignatius was a Spanish Catholic priest who founded the Jesuit order and believed that the “Examination of Consciousness” is the most important practice a person can maintain, daily, to connect with God.
The classic “Examen” prayer has five parts: (1) Seek light to understand the past day. (2) Review the day in thanksgiving. (3) Heed the emotions of the day. (4) Choose one feeling (positive or negative) to pray from. (5) Look foward to tomorrow.
PRACTICE: Read & respond silently to the prayer prompt, each evening for a week. It may go very fast at first, as few daily moments come to mind. Keep it up, and you may work into a prayer of about 10 minutes at a time.
Begin by taking several deep breaths.
Remind yourself: I am in God’s presence.
Review the joys and blessings of this single day.
Ask: What memories of the day trigger the strongest emotions?
How did my interactions with other people make me feel, today?
Where were my struggles?
How did I make it through the day -- did I make time for myself? Did I make time for others?
Who do I want to be tomorrow? More or less of something I was, today? For myself, tomorrow, I pray…
Before tomorrow, I ask: Am I humble? Am I ready?
As I look toward a new day, what invitation do I sense from God?
For our Lenten devotions and practices, we are loosely following the course of our Baptism class, with topics graduated to a more adult level. The first topic is “confession.” We ask those coming to be baptized to make a simple confession, one that is repeated weekly in our traditional worship service: “We believe Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God, and accept him as Lord and Savior.” Our communal confession comes from the Preamble to the Design of the Christian Church (DOC), and it contains several “church” words and concepts that have deep meaning within a certain context. Yet that context differs for each of us. We have different experiences, different knowledge, varied bits of wisdom and spiritual intuition. Therefore, I wonder what these words mean to you. Who is Jesus? How do you understand the Christ (the chosen one)? What is the significance of the “Living God?” What does it mean to proclaim Christ as “Lord” and “Savior?” I invite your answers, or questions. Your thoughts, reflections and experiences.
How does your understanding of this confession/profession grow your faith, nurture your spirit or change the way you live?
During this “Growing Season” we will be exploring ancient disciplines in a new way and opening fresh discussions about some of the foundational questions of faith. Who is God? What is salvation? How do we go about being church? Each week during Lent, in this space, we will pose questions and offer ideas to contemplate regarding some basic theological concepts. We will follow this up with a suggested spiritual practice: an action item for Lenten observance and spiritual growth. We hope you find these promptings useful and that you can find your way to participate, so that God’s Reign might grow throughout the earth. To that end, all thoughts are welcome. May we respect one another. May we create a place hospitable to honest feelings, the free exchange of thought, and civil discourse. May we love and forgive one another and seek in all things to be people full of grace.