Sunday, February 26, 2012

The First Sunday of Lent: Prayerful paths and slowing down

Lo, we descend into the valley of Lent…

This is supposed to be a time of simplicity, introspection, fasting and penitence. But it gets complicated quickly at St. Paul’s.

This morning we will chant the Great Litany, as complex an opening to worship as ever there was. We will be commissioning our new pastoral care Stephen Ministers at 10 am, and Pastor Ann Willms will be preaching today.

Later in the day, I will be offering the first in a seven-week course leading to adult baptism, confirmation or reception into the Episcopal Church.

Meanwhile, Pastor Heather Warren will be offering an introduction to the work of author-speaker Brian McLaren who will be joining us next Saturday and Sunday.

Lent is supposed to be a time of slowing down, but it does not yet feel that way for me. So I feel somewhat hypocritical in urging you to slow down and have a Holy Lent (as my mother used to put it, “Do as I say, not as I do”). So please let me offer a few brief ideas about what Lent should really be about, and I offer this to you much as a reminder for myself:

Lent is a gift to the heart. Lent can be a time not of obligation but of careful and prayerful discernment about our life path, and how God is calling us to live our life of faith in the world. It is a time of confession, of looking honestly at where we have fallen short. It is also a time to feel reconnected in our deepest self to God our creator and celebrate the gifts God gives us. This can be a time a feeling affirmed on our path, or feeling called to new directions, or maybe a combination of both.

Traditionally the Church asks that we “give up” something for Lent as a way of focusing on what is truly important. Fasting can nudge us into being less self-indulgent and more aware of the needs around us and the places God is calling us to go. Fasting that is falsely pious is no fast at all.

My suggestion is to make your fast something important and hard. Maybe instead of giving up chocolate, give up fear. Or instead of giving up meat, give up gossip. Or instead of giving up ice cream, give up petty complaining.

Lent is a time for renewal of prayer. There are many ways to pray, but all require practice. Find a regular time in your day to pray that works for you and stick to it. Get up earlier if you need to, or turn off the television or computer earlier in the evening. Use the prayer book or pray spontaneously from your heart. Reading the Bible daily in small doses can enrich your prayers and your life. Rather than getting hung up on the factoids of the Bible, let you imagination find the Holy inspiration between the lines.

You can get instant help on this: We’ve provided a series of reflections for each day of Lent written by members of St. Paul’s, and each reflection is connected to the Scripture readings for the day. All of this can be found on a special blog by clicking HERE, and the blog has links to each day’s biblical passages.

Sometimes the biblical passages fall flat with me, and that is perfectly OK. But sometimes they touch my deepest core. Today’s Epistle from 1 Peter 3:18-22 is written in coded first century language, but decoded it is a declaration of hope, that no one is beyond grace and redemption, that Christ went to the grave to find people in the grave:
“He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.”
Finally, let me leave you with a poem for Lent that I rather like, by Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007), whose writing reflects her deep faith and her interest in science.
For Lent, 1966
By Madeleine L’Engle

It is my Lent to break my Lent,
To eat when I would fast,
To know when slender strength is spent,
Take shelter from the blast
When I would run with wind and rain,
To sleep when I would watch.
It is my Lent to smile at pain
But not ignore its touch.
It is my Lent to listen well
When I would be alone,
To talk when I would rather dwell
In silence, turn from none
Who call on me, to try to see
That what is truly meant
Is not my choice. If Christ’s I’d be
It’s thus I’ll keep my Lent.
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May your Lent be filled with holiness and hope.

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