Archives for posts with tag: Lent

It seems that the cosmos have aligned to grant us the juxtaposition of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a season of penance, with an almost cartoonish holiday of smacking lips, chocolate decadence and saccharine love that is Valentine’s Day. In the realm of social media, which do you choose: hearts or ashes?

This Lenten season starting on Valentine’s Day feels somehow incisively appropriate for the hour in which we find ourselves. The #metoo outcry is the story of amorous gestures devoid of love that are instead an articulation of power, which leaves the ones preyed upon a shade less whole. There is dust on the hearts of those who have been abused. The ongoing chronicling of black and brown bodies gunned down too soon adds to tales of unrequited love for those left behind. Mothers, sisters, wives, fathers, brothers, husbands, no one is protected from the possibility of suddenly losing their beloved. Loved ones turned to ashes. With this change in season comes a call to find new language, new expressions that can re-member wounds. We need all kinds of language and gestures to enflesh pain, sorrow, mourning, rapture, joy, love.

Hearts and ashes are signifiers of life and death. Orbiting together, they express a kind of mourning and loss that is not sanitized. The heart is unrecognizable without the blood that constitutes its function. A heart rendered physically is always wet, viscous, red by oxygenated blood cells, alive and moving. It necessarily extends out through arteries, veins, fluid; it can’t not be connected. The heart is always in contact with something, someone. Otherwise it is completely devoid of life. Ashes have a life of their own, particularly when brought into contact with wind, water, or soil. They are free and light, quick to spread at the slightest breeze or drop of water. Containing them is difficult at best. Where hearts pump vitality and physical life, ashes provide a grainy, pixelated rendering of spiritual life. Hearts run and flow. Ashes settle and permeate.

Blood on our hands. Ashes in our mouth.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
  to loose the bonds of injustice,
  to undo the thongs of the yoke,
 to let the oppressed go free,
  and to break every yoke? Isaiah 58.6

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matt 6.1

Today is the beginning of a spiritual journey. The goal is not to give something up, per se. Yet, if we follow this journey in earnest, it will kill us. Something must die for life to emerge. That is the strange way of the Triune God, the way of the cross. To walk through this world with baptized bodies means to slough off layers that are no longer living or life-giving. Lent is the ultimate exfoliation. Yet even that doesn’t quite communicate in truth because the Spirit penetrates to the marrow.

The wounds of our society weep for recognition, and the church has equivocated its responsibility to the oppressed and the persecuted. Yet in this season, when we receive the ashes on our forehead, each of us has an opportunity to turn around, repent, and listen. Beginning at ground level, the dust of my own being, the soil to which you yourself will return, Lent is about self-examination. Each of us are located somewhere, among others in a particular place. We are here by some means either of our own choosing or through relational circumstances. There is soil beneath our feet that others have traversed, perhaps even been expelled from, or prohibited from walking altogether. Who we are is also intricately connected to where we are. Hearts moving over dust and ashes.

This Lent I will be asking myself, when and how am I complicit? When have I been silent? Which promises have I broken? How have I allowed my words to crumble into nothing? Blood on my hands, ashes in my mouth. Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison.

Beads have been scattered, cake crumbs ground into the floor; and now it is time to clean up after the party. Today marks the beginning of Lent. I am a thoroughly Protestant person, which means that while I do not have a long history of having to give up chocolate or sweets, it is more difficult for me to participate in a way that makes Lent meaningful. No matter how sincere, doing something for Lent always feels like I’m crashing in on someone else’s gig. Not only that, if I don’t follow through, it doesn’t really matter (or so it seems).

But this year I am taking a course on the Eucharist in which we will be tracing its liturgical history. In an interesting fate of timing, we arrive at the Reformation during Holy Week. With that in mind, my goal this year is to make the bread and the wine my Lenten reflection. Hopefully I’ll get some of those thoughts transcribed from my journal (and polished a little) to post here.

As I study liturgies of the very early church–even the biblical texts–demonstrate some ambiguity around how Jesus followers are to partake in the bread and the wine. Sometimes, simply bread is broken (Acts 2.42, 46; 20.7). Paul directs the Corinthians to make the meal more equitable by reiterating the institution narrative (1 Corinthians 10-11). In some of these texts, it may not be entirely clear if the meal was open to those who had not been baptized into the community–a requirement which the Didache states beyond a doubt. Most surprisingly, the phrase “on the night Jesus was betrayed…” is not always present (true for the Anaphora of Addai and Mari).

After Vatican II there has been a reorientation around the communion table that has spread across North American denominations and nondenominations. Yet, what is it we are celebrating? Or are we simply remembering? Is the Lord’s table fenced, or can we dine with sinners and the unbaptized? Do traditions matter? Whose feast is this, really?

Black Hole, part 8

I work in retail. Any time we leave the building we have to do a bag check. Since I’m in the office, I have the privilege of scanning people’s bags. The insides of bags can be fascinating, though I have yet to make an earnest study of them. The other day I scanned a purse and saw a bunch of lemons. So, I made a comment about whiskey sours to which my young coworker said, “Not likely, I’m pregnant!” She’s only about ten weeks along and hasn’t announced anything. But in that moment, when it was just us looking into the contents of her purse, I provided the perfect set up for her to share the good news.

Recently I’ve been preoccupied with grad school rejection letters, needing to prepare a presentation, and trying to figure out if the acceptance with partial funding is viable. Yes, I received one enthusiastic acceptance to a PhD program, which makes me smile. Yet that one acceptance pulls on a tangle of decisions the likes of which, in all my years of knitting, I have never seen such a mess. My smile quickly fades. There is a possibility that grad school won’t work out, taking me to yet a new level of barrenness. There is a possibility that I will try and fail. There is a possibility that my husband will let go of a good thing here for something mediocre there. What is the next faithful step when staying is good for one and leaving good for the other?

What does not factor into our decisions is the thought that maybe, just maybe, we’ll be surprised by a bundle of joy. As I approach my 40th birthday, limitations of mortality significantly reign in any such hope. Our hearts have given up. To be honest, we simply cannot give any consideration to the ‘what if’ of children. Perhaps that sounds like an excuse, yet sometimes I am relieved that I have not had to subject a little person to my emotional shortcomings. Speaking with my future advisor, she asked if we have children and I said, no. Her next comment about that making a move simpler is true, albeit that much more painful. Sometimes I wonder what life would look like if we were parents. I must admit, it would certainly be more complicated. Sometimes I almost start to think it’s nearing time to take measures to avoid an “accidental” pregnancy. But that’s another level, and neither I nor my husband are there. Not yet.

But before the relief of a simpler life settles in, I feel the backlash of conflicting emotions. Becoming a parent is taken for granted in social discourse. Of course it will happen…eventually. Even the few infertility bloggers I started following in the last year have since become pregnant, along with so many acquaintances ten years (plus) my junior. I have hidden various Facebook friends and try to limit my interaction there to simply once or twice a week. Sometimes the voyeur gets the better of me, though, which usually results in getting smacked in the face with a baby announcement or newborn picture at the top of my news feed. Pregnant women are everywhere. The shopping center where I work is a maternity mecca. There is no escape. And so I am faced with two choices: bitterness or a deep dive into grieving that leads..somewhere.

Giving up is the very thing Americans are taught to never do. But for my health and sanity, it is time for me to give up on the wish for getting pregnant and having children of my own. Since we have already decided assisted reproductive technologies are beyond our means, the next faithful step through the black hole of infertility is just that: through it. Grieving, giving up, finding a new hope, God willing. Death is an essential element in new life; I am reminded of this especially as we draw near to Good Friday.

And so we have this hope: that God our Creator will form in the rubble of our hearts seeds that, with tears from grieving, will sprout and grow something new and wonderful. May it be so, and may it be soon.