Lenten Reflection: Slough It Off

March 18, 2014 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Slough It Off

DOOL“The sand in the hourglass runs from one compartment to the other, marking the passage of moments with something constant and tangible. If you watch the flowing sand, you might see time itself riding the granules. Contrary to popular opinion, time is not an old white-haired man, but a laughing child.
And time sings.”

― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

I promise that my ears are clear and that I’m not projecting my thesis on each person I meet? but two weeks in to this Lenten season and it seems a common theme I’m hearing from people is not What They’re Giving Up this time ‘round but what they NEED to give up this time ‘round, which is EVERYthing … not coffee, not chocolate, everything. Giving up beating their heads against a wall by expecting different outcomes from identical situations, giving up expecting perfection from people who are ill-equipped to provide it, giving up beating themselves up for their imperfections when they know all they need to do is put their plans in to action …  and it’s hilarious that the theme is already in the Zeitgeist (sponsored by Walt Disney, ‘natch) LET IT GO (from FROZEN), sung brilliantly by Adele Dazeem.

My husband and I spent the month before Lent this year, like you do, in prayer and contemplation of what we thought God wanted this Lent to look like, in our home and in our hearts. The Holy Spirit inspired my husband to look at the use of sand in other parishes to signify Jesus’ journey through the desert and bring his experience in to our meditations; some parishes actually replace the holy water in the baptismal font with sand. It got me to pondering …

St. John's Cathedral, Los Angeles, CA

St. John’s Cathedral, Los Angeles, CA

Father Steve Pankey, Associate Rector at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Foley, Alabama, has a FANTASTIC blog I’ve followed for years called “DRAFTING THEOLOGY, a blog about the bible”.  What it actually feels like to me is a blog from the innocent viewpoint of a very loving, devoted, brilliant child who has been raised all his life in an intimate, unconditionally loving relationship with someone he knows is God and someone he knows is Jesus, and then at one point in his life, someone gives Steve “Scriptures” written by people he feels don’t really know the same people he does. Steve’s general reaction to the passages is, <WHO are they TALKING about ! ! This isn’t the God I know !> Steve will also wrestle with things God is asking of him in certain portions of the Gospels, especially as he’s in the final hours of writing his sermons each week. I encourage you to follow his journey; it’s quite illuminating while being absolutely delightful.

On “Temptation Sunday,” Father Steve wrote:

Have you ever felt envious or jealous toward Jesus?  I mean, in about six weeks’ time, as he’s sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, getting arrested, and hanging crucified on a tree, we won’t wish we were him, but this morning as we hear about his 40 days in the wilderness, maybe you’re getting just a tinge of jealousy. Jesus’ wilderness experience isn’t easy, but it is a once in a lifetime experience. Two-thousand years later, the Church invites us into a 40 day wilderness experience every year. Jesus was able to focus solely on his spiritual journey during his time away. Lent happens in the midst of the busyness of life: work, kids, grand kids on spring break, tax season, and, to add insult to injury, just four days into Lent this year we’ve lost an hour of sleep in the name of “Saving Daylight.”  It probably isn’t rational, but sometimes, I’m tempted to feel jealous of Jesus’ wilderness experience.

My personal experience with sand begins with some of my first memories on Virginia Beach each summer with the whole family.  The sand is lovely, it’s shiny, but I hate how it gets in everything (although I love months later when you’ll go to use a tote bag and find sand hiding in it!). Sand is really just an impediment keeping me from the ocean where I know the Holy Spirit is eager to wash away my cares and worries with the sounds of the waves crashing against it, the misty air rejuvenating my lungs, and the cleansing submersion as I renew my Baptismal promises.  (I know it’s psycho, har har, but I even renew my Baptismal promises in the shower each morning DON’T JUDGE ME LOL !)

So sand separates me from my deepest wish, to be washed and cleansed in the ocean. Sand is hot as blazes and if I don’t yet have my “summer feet” it’s like a kiln turning my skin to clay. It’s also a workout! Trudge is the vivid verb which comes to mind. Yet, once we take that first step, the sand becomes an exfoliant; no $30 pedi or little fishies needed to scrape or bite the callouses built up over my past journeys. If I continue walking long enough, there will be no evidence of my past left on my feet, only fresh, clean, newly minted skin. Ah, but there’s the rub (har har): I actually have to trek through the sand long enough for it to become efficacious. I must endure the first uncomfortable sensations to enjoy its benefits.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be perfect, mature and complete, lacking in nothing. — James 1:2-4

There’s also probably going to be some sand in the winds which come whipping across my face … there’s a hundred or so bucks saved on a facial.  But, O! the glow of a face having shed its winter layer, fresh and pink and new.

One of the points of replacing the water at the baptismal font with sand, for me, is chiefly to shake us out of what is for some, is the sin of our customs. I love singing the Hampton setting to the Creed SO much, it fills me with SUCH joy and is ripe with acting opportunities (“he sufffffered death … and was buried …”) and then the glory ! of the angels singing the DESCANT over “…on the third day he rose again…” Toward the end, however, if I’m not really “feeling church” that day, or I’m having a particularly uninspired worship experience, there’s a point where we make the sign of the cross and I’m like, oh, here comes some more Anglo-Catholic choreography …

Now I know it’s a vicious judgment on my part, but sometimes I watch people come in to church and dip their fingers in the font as casually as dropping off keys on a counter. There’s a casual presumption that there is going to be water there; just like the assurance that there is going to be a bottom to the glass they’re about to pick up or that the seat they’re lowering themselves on to is going to hold their weight. It just looks like a thoughtless habit. There’s no visible recognition of the act, there’s no sensual response to the tactile experience of the coolness of the water, or glimmer of the spiritual significance of the Holy Spirit moving the surface of the water in the beginning of creation … it’s just somethin’ ya gotta do. Lent is about shaking off habits, isn’t it? Evaluating and meditating on our spiritual practices? And the thought of coming in to church and hitting a pool of sand when you’re used to an entirely different experience would sure wake you up to realize there’s been a change in liturgical seasons, huh ?!

Another reason that I love the idea so much is that it puts me in concert with the struggling man, Jesus.  He’s fighting to make sense of his dual nature and the path of discernment for what God has called him to do. You’ve had those times when God calls you to do something and your only reaction is one of many: “I’m sorry, you can’t possibly mean me.” “You’ve GOT to be KIDDING me.” Or the ever popular, “Oh, HELZ no.” … it’s so very rarely immediately the meek and “Christian” response of  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  The key, however uncomfortable, to accepting a newness from routine in answer to God’s call is always that first blasted step. I can tell myself my life would be so much better if I would practice my yoga postures every day but it doesn’t mean a thing if I don’t actually get off my keister and practice my yoga postures every day.  It’s very easy to pay lip service to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word but it’s an entirely other thing to have to work at getting to the cool ocean shore by having to trudge through the hot sand.

God doesn’t ask much of us … just the dedication of our whole heart and being. One thing our church asks of us, however, is to step outside of ourselves, to step away from ourselves, to cease all ritualistic, repetitive, mindless behavior and EXAMINE it, each piece of it, possibly to discard it forever, but, most urgently and importantly, to make sure we know why we’re doing it; to make sure it’s the most healthy choice for our most healthy existence, for that’s really all God wants for us: our perfection. Not the “Christianist” kind of I-Never-Sin-But-I’m-A-Sinner kind of perfection … but the serene, lovely, purring-on-all-four-cylinders kind of idyllic perfection I always dream of when we picture “…that heavenly country…”

Let’s join Jesus in his walk through the desert. Let’s take that first step, allow ourselves to be beaten by the elements, allow our natural and spiritual beings to slough off dead skin, mindless articulations, patterns of a dead and spiritless life. Let’s come out the other side of Lent with a revived awakening, a fresh outlook, a recognition of the excitement of a brand new day, and a fresh awareness of why we’re so deeply in love with God in the first place.


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