Lenten Reflection: Poop or Get off the Pot / #LentUnEdited
March 21, 2017 § 1 Comment
Dear People of God … I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, 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.
The Book of Common Prayer, Proper Liturgies for Special Days, Ash Wednesday, page 265
The habit of consistently eating healthfully and making correct and positive choices for what goes in our body is good for us. Making sure that on certain days we come home from work and we, instead of flopping on the couch, put on some music and shake our booty, which provides us with consistent opportunities to achieve an invigorated circulatory system. Establishing and sinking in to some patterns and habits, though, can become anesthetizing, often to our detriment. Sometimes when we’re not in a positive space spiritually or psychicly, we can find ourselves taking comfort among the company of murmurers, people who just want to gnaw on bones, because it makes us feel less alone, and it sure does feel good to whine and wallow and really sink ourselves deep down in our misery, doesn’t it? A more appropriate and life-giving choice, however, is seeking wiser counsel among people who are dedicated to “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, [topics of] excellence and / worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). Sometimes, however, it’s only easy to see that we’re in a rut in hindsight. Sometimes in counseling friends who act like this, it takes a while to realize that they don’t want to be helped out of their muddle, they just want company in it.
We read in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews that we are to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” to “provoke one another to love and good deeds,” and make sure “not to neglect meeting together.” That sounds encouraging, but it’s not such an easy practice, this meeting together. Following the teachings of Jesus as Christ is challenging enough, but putting together a service which will rejuvenate and elevate our bodies, minds, and spirits on a weekly basis has provided us with the state of the Christian church today: everyone has their own flavor. Some like laser shows and body stirring anthems, jumping up and down and spirited sermons; some like to sit quietly in a room in silent prayer; some like to hear an encouraging pep talk with poems but little Scripture; and some, like us, follow the structure and liturgy of the ancient rites.
The practice of following The Book of Common Prayer is not an easy row to hoe (so much flipping !) and it is my humble opinion we’ve strayed far from even knowing what’s inside it (#LetsMeetInThePrayerBook). We’ve really got to dig deep, ‘cause it may look like there’s not much there, but the simplicity of what’s recorded is powerful and life-changing and I don’t think we pay enough attention to it (and it’s pretty much the document which guides our journey as members of the Episcopal Church).
Thing is, you can come and sit and hear the pretty music and sing (or not sing) and stand and sit and stand and cross yourself and shake a hand or two and sit and stand and kneel (or not kneel) and have “your little cracker” and “your juice” and go on your way, probably rejuvenated, I’m not knocking it, but The Book of Common Prayer asks us to live a life in a consistent rhythm, to pray several times a day, to meet at least once a week, to observe the traditions of a cyclical calendar, and, most importantly, to delve into God’s Word and explore the Sacred Mysteries of the Good News that Jesus sacrificed himself as propitiation, once, for all, and the hardships are over and done, the Law has been fulfilled. We’re to come together to remember that, yes, but also to live in the joy of that Good News.
The bidding I led with is one of the two times in the church year that the priest comes down to the lip of the altar and addresses us personally, in the name of the Church. “~Do this. Observe a Holy Lent. Examine yourself. Turn from your inappropriate habits…and meditate on the holy writings.~”
Often people rush past the “self examination” part and go straight to the “self denial” part … “What are you giving up for Lent ?!” “Oh, I’m not giving up anything, I’m taking ON something!” … The choices people make for Lenten “self denial” has always just slayed me (#NoJudge). All I can ever think of is “reindeer games,” which refers to the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated Christmas television special “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (which to me is a painful and personal documentary of school yard shaming and bullying, but that’s stuff I’m still trying to work through). The Urban Dictionary defines them as, “any fun activities which are enjoyed only by members of a clique, the fact of which is often purposefully made obvious to anyone existing outside of said clique in order to make them feel inadequate and left-out.”
I feel like the whole “giving up” and/or “taking on” aspect of the practice of Lent is such an enormous distraction from the first bidding, the deep “self-examination and repentance” we’re called to. If we “give up” chocolate, is that truly a soul-changing revelation and will we truly repent from ingesting it? I’ve heard of some people, and the lack of their understanding of cause-and-effect astounds me having worked in the service industry all of my 20s, who are going to forego dining in restaurants, and squirrel all that money away to donate it at the end of Lent. Meanwhile, there is some poor woman who works a second job as a waitress so that she can afford to get her kids new Easter outfits who is going without that tip. Wouldn’t it be more of a sacrifice, more of a gift, more in the vein of walking with Jesus, to go to that restaurant, have a cup of tea, and leave a crisp twenty dollar bill, just for satisfaction of giving and the benefit of a person working in service depending on those daily tips?
Self-examination is the first thing asked of us. In an age (or because of our chronologic age) where it seems as though we have no accountability to any presiding authority, it’s often difficult to know if we’re inside or outside appropriate boundaries. Here’s a boundary for self-examination: Why do we show up at church? What are we doing there? What are we contributing?
When we show up at church, do we swoop in with tales of woe, asking everyone to notice us, participate in the calamity of our day? “Oh, I’m so sorry I’m late! Oh, what happened to me! The horrors of my commute! Me, me, me!” Do we bring in troubles from the Outside? Or do we wipe Outside off our feet at the doors and come inside to settle in to the peace of the preparation of worship. I’m not talking about a fake smile and a, “Oh, praise Jesus, sister, I’m OK and I’m on my way!” but many of us want to spread our troubles around instead of being bearers of a Good Report. I gotta tell you, as a member of the Altar Guild? In the past? I’ve seen people treat the Sacristy like a Green Room backstage at a high school production of GODSPELL and I would just want to scream, “WHAT ! are you DOING ! here! This is a HOLY SPACE where people are preparing themselves to proclaim the eternal mysteries of GOD ! Why are you here ?! and WHAT are you contributing !” I’ve talked to people in the pews who only come on Sundays sporadically because they just need a “little church,” because “it’s always the same anyway.” Really?? Because the experience is not what’s being presented to us, it’s what we’re pouring in to it, it’s our collective concentration that turns this from a performance in to a Cosmic Mystery. We’re there to lay our lives down on that altar as a sacrifice, in tandem with Jesus’ sacrifice for us and for all, as we recall the preparation of Passover before the ultimate redemptive sacrifice.
Lent starts out demanding we contemplate our own mortality, too. Lent isn’t easy, Lent is a journey in a wilderness. As The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth M.C. Kaeton posts on her blog telling-secrets, <Not The Wilderness. A wilderness. A place we haven’t yet explored A place as yet unknown to us. A place where we may confront things we have not yet encountered. A place where we can explore our own vulnerability. A space where we might discover the limits of our spiritual endurance. / Indeed, how does this ‘sacrifice’ which leads us to ‘charity’ actually underscore our privileged status and emphasize – but not bridge –the chasm between rich and poor. What if we came to our eight-week Lenten journey with a real sense of ‘poverty’, with a full sense of our powerlessness and vulnerability and no measurable goals?>
We’re almost halfway through. It’s not too late to take stock and really change our hearts, minds, and behaviours if we came at this year casually or carelessly. It’s also just Spring, a time to pray that God’s Holy Spirit will “Create in us a clean heart and renew within us a joyous spirit” (Psalm 51). A time to shake off what once was, and to make room for a new “me”. To make sure that, when we enter a room, we can give thanks to God, “who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us spreads and makes evident everywhere the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of God. For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ which ascends to God, among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing … an aroma from life to life, a vital fragrance, living and fresh.” (2 Corinthians 2). Let’s take up the practice of being a sweet fragrance, vital, living, and fresh, where ever God leads us, shall we?
– your pal, dasch