I do have a few posts in the works about our recent travels and time spent around London that will include lots of pictures, but in the meantime, I implore you to read this and offer any and all comments!
Cross of St. Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral yard, Durham, England
Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, and the whole Lenten season has completely sneaked up on me this year. Perhaps it’s the fact that I missed church this week because of a cold, or that I’m just generally far away from my normal liturgical community, or am consumed with thoughts of other things, for better or worse. But I have felt convicted by the tiniest little hints at what other people in my life (and cyberspace) are doing to mark this time of year–little mentions on facebook about giving up facebook, or fried food, or coffee; the suggestion to download some free music (which I did) written specifically for the season; and even the sweet suggestion from a friend to try out Lenten services at one or both of the very famous cathedrals I happen to be living close to at the moment (how did I NOT think of that?) Eric and I have discussed, in the past, the purpose of giving up something for lent–how to do so worshipfully, not just as a personal challenge like a New Years resolution; can the very process of doing away with an idol actually become and idol in itself? and, if I were to give something up, what on earth would it be? I’ve often thought food items, like chocolate, sweets in general (eek!), or coffee, would almost be selfish–like using a liturgical season as a holy diet. Facebook would probably be a good one, but not this year when it’s such a vital part of staying connected to my home family and keeping them apprised of Everett’s growth (though admittedly, I should probably reign in my constant compulsive checking in). Television? maybe. But what about, despite the rather explicit tradition of surrendering pleasures of the flesh, non-material things?
For instance, would it be appropriate to focus on giving up being defensive in arguments with Eric? my tendency towards self-pity when a kind gesture of mine isn’t received in the exact way that I have manufactured in my mind would be deserved? my judgment of others? my selfishness with my time? my burning desire for things and more things–beautiful things, sometimes very good things, but things nonetheless that take the place in my heart where Christ should be.
Or could Lent for me be about adding something to my life that is missing? Daily Bible reading is an act that has terrified me for years; something which, despite many friends’ and my husbands’ loving and dutiful encouragement towards, strikes terror into my heart. The superficial reasons for this date to my first religion course in college when I came to face the fact that translations are imperfect, as were the men who compiled the cannon, as were the men and women who taught me about Scripture growing up, which led to a serious distrust of everything I thought I knew about the Bible and my own ability to read it without completely misinterpreting every word. More deeply, however, I don’t like to be told that I am wrong. I don’t like to confront uncomfortable truths, and I really LOVE to believe I have a lot of stuff figured out based on my own ability to reason with the world, act in love as much as possible, and rely on what others tell me about the Bible without developing a relationship with it for myself. As I write this, the thought occurs to me that, hmmmm, maybe this IS what my Lent needs to be about.
But where to start? This is another terrifying question to answer–at the very beginning? with books I’ve never actually read before? with the psalms or proverbs–they’re fairly easy to digest, right? with the New Testament? Should I find a guide, a devotional book, a schedule to follow rigidly? Or do I just close my eyes, place the imposing volume on the table spine down and see where it falls open?
And how much time each day? I’m prone to give up on things like this when I falter just a little or stray from the plan; very quick to dismiss it as useless if I don’t meet the mark I’ve set for myself, even if it was arbitrary to being with. (Ha, and I take such pride in being goal-oriented and industrious. . .more proof that humans are terribly, sometimes miserably, complicated). I have had very fruitful experiences with reading a long passage but just meditating over one line, sometimes less than a verse. But once again, I tend to mistrust those experiences rather than relish in them as the still small voice of revelation.
Sometimes I wish, quite honestly, that I were a brand new Christian. Maybe this is an oldest child kind of complex, this idea that since I’ve been a Christian my whole life, really, I should know what I’m doing by now. If I were new at it, maybe it would be easier to admit that I need a lot of help. A few years ago now I was ever so pleased to develop a friendship with someone who was just embarking on this crazy journey and was struck by what a blessing it was to experience Christ and the scriptures through her eyes–eyes that were in many ways fresh, but in many other ways more heartbroken over her human condition than I had ever truly been. Her honesty about our brokenness was convicting, and her honesty with me and in her approach to Christ, her marriage, her other relationships with friends and family, perspectives on sermons, and living in community never ceases to convict and humble me whenever we speak (despite my, again oldest child, tendency to pretend like I know it all already).
This same friend has been one of the most faithful to encourage me towards actively developing my relationship with Christ–suggesting sermons to listen to, ways to pray, scripture to read–and always so earnest, in the same way someone might say, “oh my goodness, this recipe, you MUST try it, it’s to die for!” or, “have you heard this album or read this book yet? it’s really amazing.” In other words, NOT in the way that I think many long-time Christians (and indeed, non-Christians) might be wary of–that condescending, patronizing, dripping-with-judgment and holier-than-thou-ness attitute that is so often and unfortunately a part of the language we feel the need to use with one another.
So perhaps, for this Lent season, what I need is to put on the clothes of the New Christian, the naivete, the wonder, the lack of cynicism, the earnestness, and above all, the fresh awe and admiration for my Savior–after all, Lent is also about new life and rebirth–and crack open my dusty Bible as though I’d never seen it before. This still scares me, and I would love your thoughts on how to get started.