Tag Archives: prayer

Another Year, Another Lent

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Winter is a stark time. The snow on the baseball field glints in the light from the street lamp, I bang my boots in the doorway to dislodge the brown sidewalk sludge, the old woman next door calls desperately to her lost dog, looking under bushes, her cries reverberating through my bedroom wall.

Winter is harsh, so it is no wonder to me that the Lenten season begins at the coldest time of the year. My soul feels barren right around now, and the earth mimics that emptiness. The Greeks had it right with the myth of Demeter and Persephone: only the most desolate yearning of an abandoned mother could depict the earth’s brokenness in hibernation.

~     ~     ~

There are places you feel safe, and you forget for a time that it is not true. You feel in control, like the queen of a kingdom that is small but significant, and you rule it with love and little bit of self-aggrandizement. Then, one morning, you wake up and realize this kingdom of yours is out of control. It is full of rebellious and thoughtless citizens who — even though they may care greatly — do not have your best interests (or those of the kingdom) at heart.

You blink.

You don’t feel safe anymore.

You desperately try to gather up the pieces that are left. It’s okay, let those ones go, they weren’t dedicated or committed enough. Cut them lose. Soldier on. Create community with what you’ve got left.

So you celebrate Shrove Tuesday with Flatbread pizza and meeting new people.

You honor Ash Wednesday with sushi, connecting with your once-called “city-friend,” and remembering the Ash Wednesday of 2015, complete with a cross on your forehead and German beer with Jewish men.

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You try to remember who you work for. Who you teach for. Who you love for. Because if there’s one thing this week has taught you, you certainly can’t do these things for just another person. People are fallible and weak. There’s a switch they flip so they stop caring when they need to. You wish could find that switch inside yourself. Your co-homeroom teacher wishes you could find that switch inside yourself so he didn’t always need to be the calm yin to your crazy yang. There are benefits to turning it all off.

~     ~     ~

But I’ve never been able to do that. I tried for years and fooled a few people, but I became a caricature of myself: critical and nit-picky and closed-minded. I don’t want to go back to that place, but I’m not sure I can survive here in this emotion-filled but also-empty place.

Last Lent, I went through a similar season, and Henri Nouwen spoke balm to my soul. I opened the slim book again this year, wondering at the gift of the church calendar, and I felt like Nouwen was sitting in the room next to me, speaking to my moment in time, to my pain in time. It didn’t matter that it was only black words on a white page.

I am constantly surprised at how hard it is for me to deal with the little rejections people inflict on each other day by day…This atmosphere often leaves me with a feeling of being rejected and left alone. When I swallow these rejections, I get quickly depressed and lonely; then I am in danger of becoming resentful…

But maybe all of this is the other side of a deep mystery, the mystery that we have no lasting dwelling place on this earth and that only God loves us the way we desire to be loved. Maybe all these small rejections are reminders that I am a traveler on the way to a sacred place where God holds me in the palm of his hand. (Gracias A Latin American Journal)

God reminds us of things even when we don’t want to be reminded of them. I would much rather feel both loved and accepted and supported on earth AND in heaven.

There is little to be learned from comfort.

Even as I write this, the sky is turning pink over the city skyline. I hear birds in the bare trees below my window. My roommates are waking slowly, the floors creaking under their morning feet.

I am grateful for seasons on the earth as I am grateful for seasons of the church. I can’t imagine a world where our inner workings always stood in stark contrast against the evergreen world or the always-joyful church.

The promise of spring holds more meaning for me as an adult than it ever did for me as a child. I see the greenness of the old pine tree even beneath the crusty snow.

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Lost Letter

photo 1I found it a few days ago, tucked into a book as an impromptu marker. I’d used one of my favorite notecards and I remember writing the letter in February, sitting in the little white chair in my bedroom.

I’d meant to send it, like any letter, but somehow it’s been hidden for the past five months.

I toyed with sending it now, but my curiosity got the better of me. I tore it open, read the words I’d meant for a friend. A time capsule, this letter that was never meant for my June-self, contained not only comfort, but truth.

I had no idea the difficult conversations I’d be having over the next few weeks, nor the “change” (really, changes) I felt coming. All I knew was what I read, what I felt, and how beautifully scripture pairs with Mary Oliver in a handwritten letter.

“For I am the Lord your God,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar –
The Lord of hosts is his name.
I have put my words in your mouth,
and hidden you in the shadow of my hand.”
-Isaiah 51:16

Dear K,

This was part of my Lenten devotional – good ol’ Henri Nouwen! – and it struck me for a few reasons. The biggest one, though, is that God’s words fill our mouths – God fills our mouths with his words. There is so much power in that but the number of times I do not feel God’s words coming out of my mouth would seem to disprove this fact. So in those moments when we are most afraid, most vulnerable, most ready to throw our hands up and despair, that is when the power of God’s Word (God’s words) can lift us out of ourselves.

But hand-in-hand with this power is God’s protection. I think it was this combination of truths that brought this verse so deeply into my heart. Because as little as I feel God’s strength and power within me, I would say I feel his protection even less. Sometimes I feel I march through the gates of whatever “righteous” battle I’m waging at the time, but despite God’s power, I am left unprotected, easily hurt, and most often very confused.

I think perhaps there is a little bit of your New York in that: full of strength in the beginning, a sense of extreme vulnerability, and a feeling of no protection afterwards.

I feel on the cusp of some “great change,” and I don’t necessarily mean factual, physical, geographical. I think this Lenten season holds a mystery for my discovery, and when I woke up and read my devotional, writing to you became the first step in that pursuit of quiet, of rest, of opening up to hear God speak.

Morning Poem
by Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches –
and the ponds appear

like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead – 
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging  – 

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted – 

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
wether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

Love,
Catherine

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Dry Bones

11370681625_89acf77bfa_oWe are sitting in the darkness of a church I don’t attend. We sit silently, and it is now that I feel communion – we do not need to talk, we only need to be.

Scripture after scripture goes by, and the candles are lit slowly, the light progressing through the sanctuary. I am restful, but my skin prickles with anticipation: with the light comes the end of darkness, and I wait.

It comes, as I knew it would, because that is the beauty of the liturgy.

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

Tears spring to my eyes. I listen as the familiar words are read, and I think back to the winter of darkness when my friend said over the phone, “Cath, you know that dry bones passage in Ezekiel? I can’t get it out of my mind.” And I remember reading it after we hung up and being caught up in the redemption of Israel.

The redemption of all Creation.

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

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All I can think about is how bizarre it is that God should choose to breathe life into my dry bones.

He does choose to, though; once, at a specific moment in history, and again, daily, hourly, every moment. As He chooses to breathe life into me, I become more and more my Creator’s creature.

The real man is at liberty to be his Creator’s creature. To be conformed with the Incarnate is to have the right to be the man one really is. Now there is no more pretense, no more hypocrisy or self-violence, no more compulsion to be something other, better and more ideal than what one is. God loves the real man. God became a real man.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics

This passage reverberates in my brain, and I feel released from the pressure to reach perfection. God loves the real man. Now there is no more reason for self-violence, for self-hatred, for shame.

And I raise my hands in song. I open them with gratitude.

2322385287_affab4fe5b_oSo I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Most of the time, I interpret myself into those dry bones. It is my brokenness that is healed. It is my redemption I see.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

For the first time, though, I wonder what it would be like to be Ezekiel. To hear from the Lord this impossible command: Prophesy to these dry bones!

I’m sorry, Lord, but that’s crazy.

There is no redemption here.

There is no hope.

I know what the possibilities are, and life is not one of them.

 “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life...Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

Lord, do you know what you’re saying? These people, this person, this situation, this destruction cannot be redeemed.

It is broken beyond repair. The bones are dry.

I cannot prophesy because I do not believe.

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.  I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

How can Ezekiel believe that God would revive the brokenness of Israel? His belief is just as unfathomable to me as the sinews and tendons stretching over these newly formed bodies.

I am as in awe of Ezekiel’s faith as I am of the living and breathing bones.

Not only am I walking, breathing evidence of God’s redemption, but I am called to be Ezekiel.

I am called to speak hope.

I am called to look at the dry bones in my life — in the world — and speak truth over them.

I am both the dry bones redeemed and the bringer of the news of redemption.

Lord, help my unbelief.

 

[Scripture from Ezekiel 37:1-14]

[Painting: Leptit Monde]

[Photo: Anjan Chatterjee]

[Photo: Bill Liao]

Prayer and Desire

photo 2 [“I don’t understand – what’s the point of praying? It’s not like we can change God’s mind.”]

When I pray – when I ask God for what I want – I am opening myself up for blessing.

I am trusting that God is capable of meeting my needs, my desires. Beyond capable, even. I am trusting that He wants to.

But, just as possibly, I am opening myself up for disappointment. For “no.” For dissatisfaction.

I am reminding myself that I am vulnerable. That I can be hurt and confused by circumstances. That I am at the mercy of my God.

[“So you’re telling me that prayer is all about our attitudes? It has nothing to do with God’s actions?”]

If I do not pray – if I choose instead not to commune with the Creator, not to bare my wants before the Lord – then I cannot say I am hurt. I cannot say that God withheld from me what I am convinced would be good for me. I cannot say that he told me “no” or directed my life down a path I never would have chosen.

If I do not pray, I can convince myself of my own strength.

I didn’t want it anyway.

Like the fox and the grapes, I will slink away in sadness cloaked in falsehoods.

I didn’t want to sing.

I didn’t want a home, a farm.

I didn’t want him.

I didn’t want little blonde babies.

I didn’t want to be a writer.

If I never want, I will never be disappointed. It has very similar outcomes to not loving, really: If I never love, I will never be hurt.

[“Don’t we choose? Don’t we get to decide what our lives look like?”]

I’ve gotten good at prayers of gratitude; ever since my blood clot, I look to the sky, see the peachy-pink shades of a sunset, and words of thankfulness tumble from my lips. It isn’t hard for me to remember the Lord’s goodness in what He has already done.

I haven’t yet mastered the trust that God remains good regardless of what happens. photo 2 And so, I come to the place I often find myself. The place where I must choose to live fuller – and probably be disappointed – or live safer – and walk the earth with shells of avoided disappointments.

Their very emptiness is enough to make me cry.

~     ~     ~

I prayed for the first time in weeks.

Yes, I’ve had random thoughts to the Lord, thanking Him, asking Him, talking to Him.

But I have been avoiding my desires. I’ve been avoiding admitting there are things I want. And I’ve been avoiding telling Him that I know He is in control.

Because if I don’t think He’s in control, He can’t allow (or not allow) things that will disappoint.

[“I just feel like He’s been removing all my reasons for going. All the reasons I thought I was doing this don’t exist anymore. I don’t understand.”]

I prayed for the first time today.

The first time in weeks.

And I asked Him for what I want. I do not know yet what the outcome will be. This could go the way of the beach house. This could go the way of so many of my life’s sister ships.

I do not know.

But I have prayed, and opened myself up to both the possibility of blessing and the possibility of disappointment.

Good Things #18: Rolling Out of Bed

There’s nothing better than coming home after a long day at work and realizing: I have nothing else I need to do. All I’m responsible for now is eating dinner, reading a good book, making sure my next day is fully planned, putting the chickens in for the night, and heading to bed sometime before 8:30. I’m kidding. Kind of.

Fall’s always had a melancholyness to it. I go from a sunny summer high to this immediate need for hibernation, and it often includes a good dose of “woe is me” and a tiny bit of anxiety. It doesn’t seem to matter that fall is one of the most beautiful seasons, and even as I walk through the crunchy red leaves in the afternoon sun, I feel a weight of the darkness coming earlier and earlier every day.

This past Monday, as I looked out the window and realized it was almost pitch black already, I forced myself to get back in my car and drive to small group.

It was 6:30 and I wasn’t sure if I would last till after 9:00. I told myself that somehow I’d find the energy, that somehow 6:15AM wouldn’t come as quickly as it seemed and it would all be worth it. There’s something about deep cushy couches after a certain hour that beg me to fall asleep. And warm beverages. And a cozy light against a warm living room wall. Even when roughly ten people surround me talking theology and life and purpose, I still manage to drift off quietly in a corner somewhere.

But I went and I sat and I did not fall asleep. I even engaged in the conversation, offering up my paltry musings and observations. We ended in prayer and I prayed aloud for two friends who sat by me, something I never would’ve done a few years ago.

That’s the thing. My bed is extremely comfortable. My beeswax candles smell like summer and the book I am reading about an uppity twenty-something in the 1940s is quite engaging.

But they aren’t people. They don’t breathe or think or speak. They don’t ask how I’m doing and actually care, and they certainly don’t pray for me.

I have to be careful as the months get colder and the sun gets further away. I have to fight my natural tendency to curl up and shut out the world. There’s a balance between “Oh my gosh I’ve had too much people time and I just need to be alone!” and “I’d be okay with never speaking to another human being again.” I hardly ever consider myself an introvert, but in the months between October and March, it’s hard to see me as anything else.

I wouldn’t say anything earth-shattering happened at small group Monday night. Community happened. Thought happened. Prayer happened.

And none of that would’ve been possible if I hadn’t rolled out of bed.

Can’t Put My Finger On It

Walking downhill forces you to tip-toe and the body that usually finds it so difficult to be graceful looks like a dancer just for a moment. Spending a week in the mountains, you walk downhill quite a bit.

The mountains have a way of shocking. Waking up after a night of airplanes and trains and miscommunication and three hours alone in the dark is transformed when you look out the window.

What could keep you away a whole year? Then another?

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Oh, this.

Homes called “chalets” and dark wood-filled kitchens. Mint tea shared by a small community that will most likely never see each other again. Nights in the lounge playing fish bowl; conversation that drifts from American Girl Dolls to the point of prayer to the public transportation system in America.

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How did I become so blessed?

And one of the best parts is the absence of this very thing: no internet, limited phones, no demands from the world.

I know I can’t live like this always, but for a week it is lovely.

Did you know it is possible to play pingpong in the dark in bare feet and not care that the pavement is freezing?

And you can sing harmonies to hymns with people you barely know, but you all know the music.

You can learn the laughs of eighteen different people and name the laugher a half-a-house away.

You can play volleyball and not be kicked out for your terrible serving abilities.

You can weed a garden you will not enjoy, take recycling to the village whose name you can’t pronounce, deep-clean a kitchen that will serve you only one more meal.

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Then you will wake up bleary-eyed and pack your bag. You will try to pretend it isn’t real as your friend pours you coffee – a cup of coffee you inhale because the bus is coming.

You will walk to the end of the driveway with a group of new friends and one old. You will hug them and wonder Where will God bring you? as you wave from the seat through the window.

You will not be the same when you land in Boston, but you try not to name the ways.

That’s something you learned during your days in Switzerland:

You don’t always have to put a name to things because sometimes that’s all you end up seeing. The unnamed goes overlooked and invisible, hidden by what you can label, but it’s no less valuable.

[All this you overheard at dinner because you don’t always have to be in a conversation to gather its truth.]

You’re different but not sure how. And you’re becoming okay with not knowing.

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Good Things #9: A Melancholy Monday

Sometimes it’s like second nature, writing these “Good Things” posts. Other times, it’s a little harder, and I have to set aside my somewhat gloomy mood to remind myself of the blessings.

This is one of those Mondays.

But I know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:18), and I cling to this, even when I don’t understand.

Music. Probably fitting my mood on this overcast day, the Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather” is beautiful. Such good lyrics.

Rain. I usually praise God for the sun, for its warmth, but I’ve been truly thankful for the sound of rain lately. While I was at the ocean all last week, my garden grew unruly, and I am grateful for the rain and even the weeds – they remind me of the passing of time, and I don’t want to let things slip too easily through the cracks. I have a lot of work to do to clean up.

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Prayer. I do not understand prayer. I don’t really understand why we do it, how it works, or why God wants to hear from me. But I do it anyway. There have been times when I have felt deep communion with the Lord through prayer, and other times when I feel like I’m speaking to the ceiling. I am grateful for a God who hears me, even when I can’t tell. He knows me better than I know myself, and I put my trust in that knowledge. I prayed on my knees last night for the first time in a few months, and even though answers weren’t crystal clear, I knew that I was pleasing to Him.

I am thankful that there are Good Things even when they’re difficult to see.

Good Things #7 An Invitation

I feel like my head has been spinning for two weeks – not demonically, per se, just with so much stuff. Some of it is an inevitable part of the end of the school-year: baccalaureate, graduation, writing test after test (and subsequently grading those tests…). But part of it I bring on myself: Yes, I’ll come! Yes, I’ve been wanting to see that movie! I haven’t been to a Red Sox game in ages. 

I don’t regret for a minute any of the things I’ve said yes to.

Star Trek 2, from a sincerely un-knowledgebale non-Trekkie, was quite enjoyable. It was loud and action-packed, but the movie’s 3-D was a little painful for me. My eyes kept focusing in and out and I hadn’t thought to wear contacts so those huge 3-D glasses were competing with my regular glasses. The moment Benedict Cumberbatch started speaking, though, it was more than worth it.

The Red Sox lost, but we laughed and told stories and people-watched and I reveled in the history of that place.

Then Baccalaureate and graduation came, faster than I thought and far more emotional. I was surprised at my own internal involvement with this event, with the speakers, the students. Our headmaster spoke at the graduation, and it was a speech that will stay with me (not something I’ve ever said before, I don’t think).

Three questions: 1. What will you do? 2. How will you do it? 3. And with whose power?

It hit me because even though I don’t for a moment regret the way I’ve spent my time these past two weeks, I do regret the things I have let slip to the wayside.

One-on-one time with good friends I need to catch up with.

Chunks of time to do something – anything – like running, or yoga, or even walking.

 

I’ve prayed, but only surface-level prayers.

 

Thank you, God, this sun is beautiful.

Help me.

Hey there.

And those aren’t bad. In fact, I think the regularity with which words to the Lord formed in my mind – even when I was on the run – is a good thing.

What I’ve been thinking about, though, is that I’ve lost the deep communion that is so vital. Vital to my relationship with the Lord, vital to my relationships with my family and dear friends, and vital to my own sense of wholeness.

1. What are you doing? Good and beautiful and helpful things.

2. How are you doing it? Pretty well, with minimal grumbling… 😉

3. With whose strength? Ummmm…

It catches me in the moments right before I fall asleep. You have not communed with your God. He is here, waiting, but you have rushed past him, laughing and happy, but missing that element of reverence.

God isn’t calling me to be less happy. He just wants to share in that happiness.

To have me pause long enough to be wrapped in His strength so I can continue rejoicing.

Now, as I prepare for church, I wonder how to hold these fun, laughing, blessed times with open hands. How to say Thank you and simultaneously invite the Lord to enter into this with me. How to do the good, helpful things I am called to do, do them well, and do them with the only strength that’s worth its salt.

An Honest Look at God

Appleton Farms 1

Scary.

That’s the first word I write down. I am surprised and not surprised when I see it flow out of my pen. This is why I’ve waited so long, anyway. Because I knew I wasn’t going to like what I found.

I read in a quick stolen moment this blogpost. I’d never heard of this woman before, but her words seemed familiar; in writing her story, she’d unknowingly written echoes of my own. She wrote of when she was young and how she strived for perfection, reaching exhaustively for righteousness. She wrote of the moment she realized that God doesn’t bless work like this, that He isn’t a “balancing-act” God.

And then she sat down and wrote out all the things she believed about God. Not what she was “supposed” to believe. Not what she’d been told to believe.

What she actually believed in her core.

As soon as I read this, I groaned a little inside. I knew it was coming. Things hadn’t been quite right.

I kept reading, trying to ignore it. I didn’t want to put pen to paper and face the facts.

I still don’t know who God is.

“I see it as a time for intentional and careful reflection.” That’s what I wrote about Lent almost two weeks ago. And I meant it. I still do mean it. But now I’m staring down the fact that “intentional and careful reflection” means being willing to engage with what you find there. What I found in writing that list is that I have a lot to learn.

Am I saying that God isn’t scary? No. He most definitely is scary. He is the Creator of the Universe, after all, and power like that isn’t something you mess with. What I am saying, though, is that most of the words I used to describe the God I claim to follow are negative. Fearful. Unsure. I didn’t know how to interact with this, because there’s often a huge difference between what you KNOW to be true (God is good) and what you BELIEVE and act on (God is scarier than He is good).

[powerful. sovereign. tricky.]

Do I really think God is tricky? No. But I act like I do. I often live my life as though he were the infinite trickster, just waiting to pull one over on me. Ha! You thought I would protect you! I’ve got you right where I want you.

That isn’t God talking. That’s the part of me that still hasn’t fully grasped what it means to surrender. To give it all to Him and admit that I am finite and broken and that I don’t have all the answers.

I wasn’t sure what to do about this list, with all its biggness and negativity, and only a few beautiful qualities strewn in.

[merciful. loving (but not always in the ways I would think). protective.]

So I decided to remind myself of who God says He is.

I made another list with better words, straight from the Word of the Lord.

Redeemer.

Savior.

Merciful

Creator.

Lover of your soul.

Omnipotent.

Just.

~     ~     ~

Apparently, reflecting is not always fun. What is in the depths of my soul? Who am I really? And how do I answer these questions without answering: Who is God?

I explain grammatical concepts to my students every day. That’s an infinitive – it has no number or person. It’s like the most neutral form of the verb. I explain things over and over, and they seem to understand. When I ask them, “What’s an infinitive?”, they can spit out the answer. But do they understand? Could they use one in a sentence? Could they explain what is happening? Not always.

There’s a huge gap between knowing what is right and understanding. I may be able to spit out that list of words from the Bible about who God is, but that doesn’t mean I understand them. It certainly doesn’t mean my view of myself or my view of God has changed fully. How do I change the words in my head and the feelings in my soul? I am constantly in a state of flux – growth is painful. I can feel the pains of embarrassment, anger at being reprimanded, and my human desire to just live my life and have fun. Because who doesn’t want to have fun?

There’s a hope in growing, too. It means we aren’t stagnant. If we’re constantly growing, it means we haven’t yet arrived.

Lenten Growth

We didn’t observe Lent growing up. I guess it’s something most Baptists don’t do… I remember when I was nine or ten, one of my Catholic friends looked at my piece of chocolate sometime in March and said, “I can’t. I gave up chocolate for Lent.”

I’d never heard of Lent (I was well-educated, I swear!), so I asked her what she was talking about. She said you choose something bad for you to give up until Easter, “but I hardly ever eat chocolate, so it isn’t that hard.”

And that was that, because we were nine and had better things to do than discuss Church history or the spiritual significance of sacrifice.

IMG_1242[I guess I’m taking a pretty big risk, hanging a horseshoe upside down…]

In college, I was surrounded by so many different expressions of Christianity that it sometimes felt like a free-for-all. I could pick and choose my favorite parts of each (I still don’t know what’s wrong with this approach, as long as the tenets are there). I watched friends give up coffee, chocolate, and Facebook in pursuit of a closer walk with the Lord. In my cynical mind, I failed to understand the beauty of this tradition. It felt more like a cheapening of Christ’s sacrifice than a spiritual discipline: so giving up ice cream is your personal equivalent to Christ giving up his life? That doesn’t fly.

Last year, my Lenten season was a peculiar one. I was working three part-time jobs, so my hours were all over the place. I found long stretches of time when I could read my Bible, surf the web for interesting reading, and try to reconcile the fact that I believed in God’s power and Truth, but that I had serious fear of dying. For the first time, I felt compelled to observe Lent, and by “observe” I mean mostly “be aware.” Instead of giving something up, I would add.

Every night, I prayed to the Lord. I do this most nights, but usually in the comfort of my warm bed. For Lent, I decided to pray on my knees.

It wasn’t revolutionary; kneeling happens in every liturgical service. But for me, it was rare. As I feared a potential (huge) surgery, I needed to be reminded of my perfect posture in life: kneeling before the Creator, so that I could stand with his strength.

I had a hard time remembering at first. There were a few nights when I’d roll out of bed, groaning, to get on my knees and offer a few sentences to God. I don’t remember a word of what I prayed, but it’s the feeling of my knees on the rough rug that’s stayed in my mind.

~     ~     ~

This Lenten season, I have a lot of ideas brimming. I want to check my email and Facebook less (although work makes this a little difficult). I want to read a daily prayer or meditation, and not forget it throughout the day, like I normally do. I want to learn how to offer up every relationship – friends, parents, siblings, everyone – to be shaped by Someone other than myself.

I don’t see Lent as a time of deprivation. Instead, I see it as a time for intentional and careful reflection. And by giving up something material or adding on something meaningful, I’m hoping that the external will allow the internal to more fully connect with what it means to share in Christ’s suffering and resurrection.

Cross

[We found this cross off the beaten path as we climbed Mount Untersberg in Austria.]