The Fruit of Lent (week 1): Peace

Ash Wednesday. Photo Credit: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, Flickr Creative Commons

Ash Wednesday. Photo Credit: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, Flickr Creative Commons

Today is Ash Wednesday. Christians all over the world will bow their heads today, and receive a smudged sign of the cross on their foreheads – will be reminded of their own mortality. That death comes to all. That death dwells in all of us. That this world is still, in many ways, captive to sin and darkness. And they will each decide to forgo some pleasure during this time: limiting consumption of meat or sweets; forgoing screen time; eschewing social media. Other Christians, all over the world, find these practices strange and stiff. They wonder what it’s all about. But they, too, although they will not walk through their day with ash marking their foreheads, will feel the pull, the heaviness of Lent in their limbs, in their days, as we begin the long march with Christ toward the cross.

Lent is a time of confession and fasting and waiting in darkness. But this year I want to acknowledge something else – it is also a time of fruiting. Even as we recognize our mortality, as we confess our sin, as we realize anew how difficult it is to control our desires, hope is born afresh in each of us. Because we know how this story ends. We know that our recognition of our mortality will become a celebration of our resurrection. We know that we have received help for our difficult desires, and that one day they will be conquered in full. We know that even as we confess our sin, we are forgiven.

So this year, our church is walking through the fruit of the Spirit during Lent (Galatians 5). We will confess our failure. But we will also embrace forgiveness, and recognize the fruit that Lent is bearing in each of us, and in us as a community.

I invite you to join us. Below is the reading for our first Sunday of Lent – I will post a new prayer every Wednesday. The sung portion is the chorus of Steve Merkel’s “Lord Have Mercy” – a version of which I have posted below. The bold print is to be read/sung by the congregation, and we will also be lighting a Lent candle each week (with the candles lined up in cruciform) as we receive forgiveness. I was helped, in writing these liturgies, by Gordon D. Fee’s excellent work Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Feel free to use these prayers in your your own congregation or in your personal devotions – if you do the latter, simply change the language to first person singular, and I would suggest praying the prayer morning and evening as a kind of bookend to each day.

What will you give up this Lent? And what will you harvest?

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

The Fruit of Lent, Week 1: PEACE

You are the God of Peace, and you desire your people to dwell in that peace.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have caused divisions, knowingly and unknowingly, seeking our own good rather than the good of our community. Forgive us for any hurtful words we have spoken. Forgive us for our thoughtless gossip, and for the grudges we have held on to. Spirit, teach us to willingly forgive, to value relationship over being right, and to actively seek your peace with each other, and in all of our relationships.

Sung Response:      Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Amen.

This Lent, I’m Not Complaining (Except When I Am)

Complain, httpwww.flickr.comphotos20918261@N002053243383

Photo credit: Britta Frahm, (b.frahm on flickr)

This Lent, I’ve been thinking about the 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the desert. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of this particular time in Israel’s history, I mostly hear the whining. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (Ex. 14:11). “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Ex.16:3).When reading passages in Exodus, I often want to grab Israel with both hands and shake. They have been led, miraculously, by the hand of God, out of slavery and into freedom. So why are they, as God himself names them in what almost reads as a fit of pique, a “stiff-necked people”?

The Nile basin is a fertile strip that travels (for much of its journey) through arid and un-productive land—desert. On satellite maps it shows up a vivid strip of green amidst sand and rock. Leaving this fertile strip, especially as a large group, meant certain struggle and possible death through dehydration and starvation. Perhaps Israel could have trusted God more—but was it really that unreasonable for them to complain?

When I considered what I would give up this Lent, I read through parts of the Exodus story, and through Jesus’ temptation, and I wondered what it would look like to not complain for 40 days. I’m still wondering. My husband seems to rather enjoy drawing my attention to a facial expression, or a snort, or a bald-faced whine. The thing is, I do have some reason to complain—a body still healing from a major surgery, the pain and grief that comes with infertility, a career that has once again taken a sharp left-turn—and my research and experience of biblical lament tells me that it is right and good to direct these complaints to God.

Complaining in itself is not an evil.

Yet these larger, legitimate complaints are not the ones that are difficult to hold back. No, what I can’t seem to stem are the

  Photo credit: kaibara87 on flikr.

This cat is me whining.
Photo credit: Umberto Salvagnin (kaibara87 on flikr).

little sighs and comments when a board game (that’s right, a board game) doesn’t go my way; the groans of an unusually early morning; the whine that develops when one more “roll up the rim” cup (if you’re not Canadian, this will make no sense) tells me politely to “please play again.”

What I have discovered thus far into Lent is that I am a whiney and annoying person. Because—although I have not managed to stop complaining—I am, for the first time, hearing all my complaints. And I have to say, I am at least 200 times more annoying than Israel in the desert. Of course, the main difficulty with these thousands of minor whine-sessions is that they mask an equal number of blessings that I simply stop seeing. When I complain that my numbers aren’t rolling in a board game, I fixate on that and lose sight of the fact that I am able to spend an evening in comfort, with good food, in the company of good friends. That I have the time to play. When I roll myself, groaning, out of bed I forget to be grateful for a job that puts money in the bank and gives me the flexibility to continue to pursue other things. When I whine about not having a winning Tim’s cup, I lose any joy I might experience in drinking the coffee it contains.

Stop Complaining, httpwww.flickr.comphotos1c114230175179

Photo Credit: Alan Turkus (aturkus on flickr).

Maybe, when God called Israel (and us) a stiff-necked people, he meant that we turn our heads and focus in one direction only. We have a tendency to fixate on all the little things we have to complain about and, in doing so, our necks become stiff, and we can no longer turn and see the many millions of blessings—big and small—we experience each day. We lost the ability to be grateful.

So: I am thankful for a husband who points out my complaints (even when I don’t want him to), and who enriches my life with wisdom and a slightly strange sense of humour. I am thankful to be greeted, every time I return home, by Finn the Wonderdoodle, with his painful, whip-like tail wagging and grinning, shaggy face. I am thankful for our home and deck and garden. Although it is March, I am thankful for the beauty of snow piled up in our back yard. I am so grateful for the warm and generous church in which my husband and I serve. I am eternally thankful for an army of close and far friends and family that care for us in every possible way. And for the little things: for popcorn and tea; for a bathtub and hot showers; for a couch that serves as a playground for visiting children; for sudoku and logic puzzles; for my long-underwear that lets me go for walks in the cold; for good books; for chocolate; for so many, many things.

Suffering: Chapter 19 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

by Ian Walden

“With or without our permission, with or without our understanding, eventually suffering comes. Then the only question is how to endure it, how to accept it, how to cope with it, how to turn it from dross to gleam.”

How, indeed? Chittister helps by laying bare our more usual, rather less Christ-like, responses to the pain, the disappointment, the anxiety, the rejection and emptiness life throws at us.

Suffering anticipated leaves us paralysed in fear – content to settle for stasis, for comfort, for the illusion of control – rather than attempt anything worthwhile or important or spiritually necessary, for fear of the pain that will (make no mistake) accompany it.

Suffering experienced leaves us crushed in despair – content to survive and endure, to switch off from the life of the world beyond our pain, to allow darkness to fill our horizons and hide our hope – rather than continue to love our (equally hurting) friends and world in whatever ways are left to us.

Coptic Icon“Lent is the season that teaches us that darkness may overtake us but will not overcome good as long as we doggedly refuse to give in to our lesser selves…” Chittister is clear that following Jesus through Lent is about imitating his choice of the worthwhile over the easy, imitating his missional drive (that accepts pain and death as its corollary), and imitating his forgiving, inspiring love for his Father’s world – even from within his own various agonies.

Because as Stacey said last week, until He comes again, we’re it. We are the only presence of Christ on earth that many will ever know. Even if we hurt so much, or fear so much, that that’s barely possible to believe.

Have you recently witnessed anyone’s choices to live, to risk, to step into a new and difficult arena? Have you found strength to love while in pain yourself? If so, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to hear your story. We all need to know pain isn’t the end; that it does not always, cannot always, must not always, have the last word.

Amen. Lord have mercy.

I Hate Fasting: Chapter 17 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

I hate fasting. I hate not being able to eat what I want when I want it. I especially hate not being able to eat chocolate when it is desperately needed. My decision to follow the liturgical year has led me to fast from sweets for 40 days. I’m disturbed by how difficult this is – not only because it’s a constant excercise of willpower – but also because of sheer thoughtlessness. The other day I finished off a handful of yogurt-covered cranberries that someone offered me without even thinking about it.

So why should we fast during Lent (whether it is from sugar, from social media, or from some other habit or excess in our lives)? What is it about this season that requires us to give up something?

Chittister states that “Lent calls each of us to renew our ongoing commitment to the implications of the Resurrection in our own lives, here and now” (p. 110). And what shows commitment better than being willing and able to give up something for it, even something as minor as a sugar habit? Fasting, says Chittister, “exposes to seekers the distance between self-control and the compulsion to self-satisfaction” thus “Lent enables us to face ourselves, to see the weak places, to touch the wounds in our own soul, and to determine to try once more to live beyond our lowest aspirations” (p. 112).

“To live beyond our lowest aspirations.” I think I’ve just found my new life-motto. And it’s not an easy one, either. I’ve always joked that it’s best to aim low. Set low expectations and you will nearly always exceed them. But an aspiration is, by its very definition, already something beyond us. To live beyond our lowest aspirations first teaches us to reach high – and then to reach higher. Chittister states:

Having conquered our impulses for the immediate, having tamed our desires for the physical, perhaps we will be able to bring ourselves to rise above the greed that consumes us. Maybe we will be able to control the anger that is a veil between us and the face of God. Perhaps we will have reason now to forswear the pride that is a barrier to growth. Possibly we will learn to foreswear the lust that denies us the freeing grace of simplicity. Maybe we will even find the energy to fight the sloth that deters us from making spiritual progress, the gluttony that ties us to our bellies, and the envy that makes it impossible for us to be joyful givers of the gifts we have been given. (p. 113)

I am humbled. I don’t think I have ever aspired to this – not in my wildest dreams. This is definitely above my lowest aspirations, because my aspirations are just that: low. My aspirations tend to be based on acquiring blessing rather than being a blessing to others. My aspirations tend to be directed at fame and glory rather than humility and growth. And it’s important that this change, and soon. Because, as Chittister states in this chapter, until Christ comes again – we’re it. The church, the community of Christ, WE are the presence of Christ on earth. This is why the fast of Lent is so important – why it is important to live beyond our lowest aspirations – because the life of the world depends on it.

So I hope, as I undertake the small aspiration of refusing sugar for 40 days, that this small withholding will begin to stir a larger change. That I will be inspired to live beyond this lowest aspiration of mine.

Have you given up something for Lent this year? How is it going? What are you withholding from yourself, and how is/will that withholding spur you to live beyond your own lowest aspirations?

Adult Afresh: Lenten Asceticism in Chapter 16 of Joan Chittister’s ‘The Liturgical Year’

by Ian Walden

As we’ve already noticed, Christmas easily becomes a child-centric  celebration. Not so Lent! What kid can easily be induced to forgo getting things for six whole weeks, let alone take up a practice like giving their precious treasures away? In her recollections of childhood lent exercises, Chittister states starkly that this “was about spirituality become adult.” Whether we are young or old, Lent is remorseless in posing one central question to us all: “If life is not about permanent and continual self-satisfaction, what is it about?” Indeed.

But as she has already intimated in chapter 15, Lent is also a voice calling us to live newly (no matter what our life has been like until now), to live fully, to live in the hope and light of promised mercy, guaranteed new life. In other words, Lent is supposed to be a gift to us of all the fresh-faced, open-skied, hopeful-futured possibility of youth. Even to us jaded ‘adults’.

So how is this rejuvenation to be achieved? According to Chittister, Lent is “our salvation from the depths of nothingness. It is our guide to the more of life.” The ascetic discipline it proffers is to “concentrate the soul, viselike, on the center of life rather than on its peripherals.” It is “the gift of self-conquest.” It seems that Lenten self-denial is about replacing the triviality in our lives with purpose, filling our inner emptiness with a new fullness, and substituting freedom in place of our slavery and addiction to various sins.

Lent’s renunciation, then, requires courage from us in order that it may work its magic. Courage, to acknowledge that life is too short and too fragile to be wasted the way I’ve been wasting it (hence the mortality-reminder on Ash Wednesday). Courage, to admit that too much of what I fill my life with is just a papering over of my inner emptiness, of a heart forgetful of grace, of calling, of missional purpose. Courage, to admit that I still need salvation from my home-made crutches and addictions and mis-placed priorities.

In return, the very practice of renunciation instils us with many gifts. In it we find faith, the daring to believe anew that I need less than I think of creation’s good things, because I am in fact the Creator’s friend. And hope, hope that by God’s mighty immanent grace, today can still be that better day, the day of Kingdom Come – and so I need not pin my hopes for ‘a better life’ on the next indulgence, the next vacation, the next tv programme or bit of human recognition. Asceticism, in short, is a form of training, training to say ‘no’ to my small-god-self, to depose myself in order to make way for others, for Another. It frees me from my tiny wisdom, my limited will. It frees my gifts to benefit more than just me. It frees and clears my consciousness for the very ‘contemplation’ that Ordinary Time calls me to (see chapter 15).

In Lent, it seems, it turns out that the true children (the hopeful, the liberated) are those who have ‘grown up’ via renunciation. How true does this picture of Lent ring for you? What practices have helped you ‘grow up’ in these ways in Lent seasons past? What kind of helps have enabled you to persist in the face of much temptation?

The Seven Last Words of Christ: Readings for Lent

First Sunday of Lent

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”(Luke 23:34)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

You forgave even those who took your hands and feet and drove nails into solid wood. Who, straining, lifted up the cross that held you and dropped it into place. You have forgiven them. When we ask for mercy, we are amazed to find that it has already been extended. You have forgiven us.

May we, in turn, forgive. Even before it is asked of us.

Second Sunday of Lent

“I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”(Luke 23:43)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

In your darkest hour, you turned to reassure the man beside you – a stranger. You extended eternity to him, even as you died. When we suffer, we find your hand extended to us – we find strength in the life you give us.

May we, in turn, have the strength, even in our darkest hour, to turn to the stranger suffering beside us and extend your life to them.

Third Sunday of Lent

“Dear woman, here is your son.”(John 19:26)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

You turned, in your suffering, to care for those who cared for you. You turned those you loved toward each other, and asked them to give each other the status of family. You have called us your sisters, your brothers.

May we, in turn, turn to those you love, to your church, and give them the status of family.

Fourth Sunday of Lent

“I am thirsty.”(John 19:28)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

You were fully human – thirsty as you hung there, in the hot sun. You felt the urgent need of a parched throat and a dry tongue. You have quenched our thirst with your living water.

May we, in turn, choose to quench the physical thirst of others. May we, in turn, choose to quench the spiritual thirst of others.

Fifth Sunday of Lent

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”(Mark 15:34)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

You were abandoned by God, alone in your suffering. You withstood what we could not, and promised to never leave or forsake us.

May we, in turn, be faithful to those around us, walking with friends and strangers through their suffering.

Palm Sunday

“It is finished!”(John 19:30)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

You finished the work you came into the world to complete. You completed, and will complete, the world in which you came to work. You have completed and will complete your work in us.

May we, in turn, have the opportunity to join you in this completion. To take up your work, and to pull the yoke with you as our partner.

Good Friday

“Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”(Luke 23:46)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

After all. After everything. After the pain, the rejection, the sorrow – you entrusted your spirit to your heavenly father. Although you felt the forsakenness of sin in its fullest, you trusted your father. Now you entrust us to your heavenly Father – sitting at his right hand, and interceding for us.

May we, in turn, trust. May we learn the extent of your faithfulness. May we trust ourselves to you.

Easter Sunday

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

You consented to take on human weakness, being born as a baby. You healed the sick, gave hope to the poor, and freed the captives. You suffered sickness, and pain, and oppression. You were arrested. You were beaten. You were nailed to a cross. And you died. But then.

Oh but then.

After a long, dark wait – light conquered darkness.