Sunday, March 30, 2014

How Long?

As part of my Lenten observation this year, I'm taking a break from writing new blog posts and updating and re-posting earlier material. Today's post was first shared on March 27, 2011.

Spring break is coming – lots of family vacations, road trips, and that universal refrain: “How long until we get there?”
College graduation is coming too, with the deeper refrain: “How long until I find a job?” “How long until I feel really settled, ready to get on with my life?”

“How long” is a phrase that seems to be part of who we are. We live so much of our lives in that painful in-between time. The journey is started, the destination is in mind, but that time in between seems impossibly long. To quote T.S. Eliot: “ridiculous the waste sad time, stretching before and after.”

This post was prompted by a sermon focused on Abraham in Exodus 12 and Romans 4. Chris Hall, professor, parishioner, author, Bible scholar, wound his way through those two lectionary texts to end with Nicodemus in John 3. It was a challenging, encouraging sermon. 

But I confess, somewhere in the middle of it, I found myself caught in the amazing “how long” of Abraham’s life. I had gone two days earlier to pray for Emily, a girl struck by lightening almost three years before. I went to pray again this week, now almost six years into the continuing story. God has done miraculous things in her life, and healing continues, slowly, almost imperceptibly, but there is a long way yet to go, and her family, and those of us who pray, find ourselves asking “how long?”

So Abraham’s “how long” drew me in. And yes, I still heard every word of the sermon, but I was multitasking as I flipped back and forth between Exodus and Romans.

Abraham was 75 when God promised to make him “a great nation” and showed him the land He would give his offspring. He was 86 when he had a son by Hagar, the servant, rather than by Sarah, his wife. He was 100 when God told him to have his clan circumcised, and said he would have a son by Sarah, not Hagar. And 101 when Isaac was finally born.

That’s a long “how long,” with some serious missteps along the way. What seemed improbable at 75 by 100 was beyond impossible. Yet in Romans 4 Paul says this:
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed. . .  being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

Am I fully persuaded God has power to do what He’s promised? How long am I willing to wait in hope? And how do I demonstrate that hope, while I wait?

It’s a good question for Lent, this in-between time, these days of waiting, and listening, and longing for resurrection.

That refrain, “how long,” is echoed throughout scripture. Sometimes it’s God’s people, crying to him “how long”:

My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? 

Throughout the psalms the cry goes on:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

 How long will the enemy mock you, God?

How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever?

How long must your servant wait?

As I’ve been thinking about how much of our lives we spend in waiting, I’ve been struck with how, despite the waiting, the time goes flying by. It’s one of those baffling mysteries: we ride along asking “how long?” and then, suddenly, the ride is over, and we realize we missed it.

We are prisoners of time. We can’t make it move faster, no matter how we tinker with technology, trying to save time, speed time, rearrange time. And we can’t make it move slower. There’s a line from Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill that comes back to me now and then:
Time held me green and dying,
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Time holds me green and dying, and as I wait, to see justice on the earth, to see promises fulfilled, the challenge is to fill the moments as they fly by, to live as someone who “against all hope, in hope believes.”  

The service I'm remembering ended with Al Gordon’s amazing anthem, “How Long.” It’s a powerful expression of longing, waiting, and affirmation. Cruising the internet for a faithful rendition of it, I came across a powerful Tearfund video that captures my hope: to live each day as if justice is on its way, to redeem each minute because the promises are true. To wake up each day to the opportunities and challenges of that day, and to work at whatever I’m given as an offering toward the day that’s coming.

Yet, I confess, part of the recording doesn't resonate with me: too triumphant? Too exuberant? The longing is easy to sing, the confidence much harder. 

Chris Hall talks often about the “music” of scripture, the song that sings through it we’re often too tone-deaf to hear. The “how long” song we sing is part of that music, and the song has contrapuntal parts. Repeated, again and again, “how long”: until questions are answered, until healing comes, until justice appears, until we sing the victory song. 

And then, for those who hope and believe, there’s the answering refrain:
Yes I know, you will come.
Yes I know, you’ve already won.
Yes I know, my redeemer lives.
My redeemer lives.
Woven through both the longing and the hope is the prayer:
Come, Lord Jesus, we are desperate for you here.
Come, Lord Jesus, all creation crying out.
Take a few minutes to listen and watch. Can you pray or sing along? As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome; look for the __ comments link below to leave your comments. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

New Life. Mystery Fruit.

As part of my Lenten observation this year, I'm taking a break from writing new blog posts and updating and re-posting earlier material. Today's post was first shared on October 9, 2011.

Several years ago we said goodbye to a craggy crab apple tree that stood between our driveway and backyard. We had enjoyed its spring cloud of pink blossoms and the way they drifted down to carpet the ground below, but the trunk was rotting, it was a matter of time before it died, and we needed it out of the way so we could replace an old shed that was about to collapse around us.  

The tree was cut down, the shed was replaced, and the following spring I noticed that we had a new sunny corner, big enough for a raised bed of vegetables. I edged it with lengths from a trunk of a locust that came down in a recent storm, filled it with good dirt from our compost pile, and planted potatoes, lettuce, beets, swiss chard, and beans.

I missed the pink blossoms, and the birds missed the bugs, crab apples, and nesting places they’d enjoyed in previous seasons. But it was great to have just-picked beans, the robins were happy with the worms in the raised bed, and the backyard bunnies quickly discovered the lettuce.

Mid-summer I noticed something odd. There was a vine growing from the corner of my raised bed. It had huge leaves – some almost two feet across – and it was heading off through the shrubs and hostas that grew near my vegetable bed.

I pull known weeds and thugs, but I keep an eye on plants I’m not familiar with. Sometimes they turn out to be exciting additions: native trees seedlings, unexpected wildflowers.  My guess was that the mystery vine was some kind of squash, maybe from a seed in my compost? I watched with interest as it grew.

And grew. And grew. When it threatened to choke something I redirected it. When it headed off across the driveway I moved it to the new arbor I’d put up over the walk.

Eventually, it bloomed. Huge, yellow-orange blossoms. Then small green fruit began to form. Larger, then larger.

Squash? Gourds? First there was one, narrow on top, heavier on the bottom, hanging from the arbor. Then another, more symmetrical, along the driveway’s edge.

One of my daughters congratulated me on my watermelons. Really? I went to look again. Almost overnight they’d taken on a classic watermelon shape: long, fat oblongs, bright, shiny green. How do you know when a watermelon is ripe?

A few weeks later, my other daughter laughingly pointed out that watermelons are smooth. Very smooth. My mystery fruit were creased from end to end. Pumpkins. She assured me they were pumpkins.

Sure enough. While smaller green fruit formed, the green on the largest fruit slowly faded from green to a dull orange. The orange grew brighter. And there they were: two beautiful pumpkins. My first ever. The most spectacular fruit of my backyard season.

I was telling about my pumpkins when someone asked why I didn’t pull the vine out. Why would I let something I didn’t plant take over my garden? 

There are lots of things in my life I didn’t plant. Mystery seeds take on lives of their own on the edges of my well-laid plans. I find myself watching with wonder as life unfolds far bolder than I imagined, and spectacular fruit takes shape while I wait to see what it is.

When I pause to look back, I’d have to say that the most rewarding fruit so far grew from things I didn’t mean to do. I didn’t mean to stay home ten years with kids, but things unfolded and drew me in and there I was, waiting to see who they’d become. I didn’t mean to get involved with local school politics, but the time with my kids brought me into the life of their school and there I was, leading the PTA in a fractured school at a critical time, with rich fruit for everyone involved. I didn’t mean to do youth ministry, but seeds planted decades before spread into something new; that vine took over while I watched in wonder. I started a youth ministry network without even thinking: the soil was right, the moment came, and that vine jumped to life before I knew it was there.

Seeds start small. In fact, for a while, they’re invisible, somewhere in the ground, waiting for the moment when the cell wall softens and the soil is just warm enough. Some seeds wait years for just the right moment. Some seeds never start.

I just spent two weeks in Greece with my husband, a week in Athens as he met with Scripture Union staff and volunteers from around the globe, then two days traveling Biblical sites in northern Greece, and two days on the island of Santorini. It was spring in Greece, with almond trees blooming, and wildflowers everywhere, bold red poppies, purple malva, fields of yellow rapeseed.

That trip was the fruit of seeds planted long before, and even as we traveled, I could feel new seeds slipping into the ground: new relationships, new ideas, new possibilities. Some will need attention and care. Some will bear unexpected fruit. The terrain Jesus walked was much like the terrain of Greece, uneven and rocky, with hills dropping off to the sea. Seeds spring up in the crevices between the rocks, grasp whatever moisture they can before dying back in the withering summer sun. Some plants are husbanded with great care: grapevines wrapped into tight little circles, a method to conserve water in landscapes with little rain. Other plants grow with no apparent attention: ancient figs on the edges of barren fields, or growing in cracks of ancient walls.

Someone asked me recently, “Where does faith come from?”

Another question, from another source: “ Why do some people believe, and others don’t?”

Prompting my own question: “What is the role of human agency, in the mysteries of new life?”

And, today, this third Sunday of Lent: how can the season of Lent be a season of planting? How do we set aside our own tightly-held priorities and plans, to see what God is preparing for the season ahead?

I can plant seed, nurture young plants, water wisely, prune back the competition.

I can watch in expectation, and wait with patience. And pray.

But new life, fruit that will last, are all beyond my control: gifts received with gratitude.

Mysteries to celebrate when the moment of harvest comes. 

This post is part of the March Synchroblog: New Life. Other posts are below:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Why Kneel?

As part of my Lenten observation this year, I'm taking a break from writing new blog posts and updating and re-posting earlier material. Today's post was first shared on March 20, 2011.

Jesus Christ, Garden of Gethsemane, artist unknown
      The taste
                  of rain
        —Why kneel?
         (Jack Kerouac)

For some reason, kneeling and Lent seemed connected in my mind. Thinking back on the very non-liturgical faith tradition of my childhood, I can’t remember kneeling, or any mention of kneeling. We stood to sing, sat to listen. Our most demonstrative act was to shake someone’s hand after the service.

The first time I remember kneeling was when my grandmother had a heart attack, the spring I was 16. In grief, then prayer, I knelt beside her bed. It seemed the only thing to do, and in my kneeling and prayer, I experienced God's presence and love in a way I had never imagined.

 A few years later I witnessed a frightening domestic dispute, with threatened violence and verbal abuse. By the time the abusive party drove off, all I could think of was to kneel with the shaking injured party, and cry, and pray, and wait for God’s comfort and wisdom.

The first time I took communion in an Episcopal church, kneeling at the altar, I found myself feeling deeply at home, spiritually fed in a profound and unexpected way, and thankful for the opportunity to kneel. There are times when kneeling seems the only thing to do, the best posture for meeting God, the safest place to be. After the tragic events of 9-11, our church held a prayer service, and I remember kneeling with so many others, thankful to kneel in God’s presence.

Why kneel? What are we doing when we kneel?

For me, kneeling can be a physical expression of lament. I kneel when life is too much, when the pain is too great, when there seems no place to turn. Nahum, describing the fall of Ninevah, says “Hearts melt, knees give way, bodies tremble, every face grows pale”  (Nahum 2:10)In Hebrew, the word for grief (כרא- kara) sounds exactly like the word for knee, kneel, smite, sink, fall, bring low (כרע - kara’). 

The Prodigal Son, Salvatore Rosa, Italy, 1650
Kneeling is also an expression of repentence. The prophet Ezra, made aware of Israel’s sin, tore his tunic and cloak:
and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God  and prayed:
I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great (Ezra 9:5-7).
Beyond grief and repentence, kneeling is an expression of submission, and supplication. We are small and God is great. In kneeling, we set ourselves in God’s hands. Lepers, seekers, desperate parents knelt as they called out to Jesus for help. Jesus himself knelt in Gethsemene, praying in submission and sorrow before his journey to the cross. 

I sometimes find myself returning, when I kneel, to the words of TS Eliot’s “Little Gidding,” part of his book-length Four Quartets. Eliot was born in St. LouisMissouri, but became a British citizen, and an Anglican, in 1927. Fourteen years later, he served as an air raid warden and firewatcher in London during the Blitz, when German bombers targeted London for 76 consecutive nights. Between September, 1940, and May, 1941, forty thousand British civilians, half of them in London, had been killed by bombing. More than a million houses in London were destroyed or damaged.

"Little Gidding" is about many things, but in large part it’s about the pain of living in a ruined city, in a time of great devastation, and the challenge of living in faith when hope seems gone. In a letter to a friend, Eliot noted that the memorable line “Ash on an old man's sleeve” referred to the debris of a bombing raid hanging in the air for hours afterwards. "Then it would slowly descend and cover one's sleeves and coat in a fine white ash."

In the section before that, Eliot writes of kneeling, and of prayer: 
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion….
…You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
We come to our knees through different routes, through pain, guilt, grief, helplessness. And once there, we set aside “sense and notion,” all the games our minds play, all the willfulness so hard to escape.

In kneeling, we speak to God in a way that goes beyond “the order of words, the conscious occupation of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.” Certainly we can pray in any posture, but in kneeling, in a physical way, we declare our need, our dependence, our submission.

Psalm 22 says “all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive.” Contemporary Americans tend to be control freaks, desperate to fortify ourselves against the hazards that surround us. But despite our efforts, we, like all who have lived before us, are “those who cannot keep themselves alive.” Independent though we are, resourceful as we like to think ourselves, a moment of honest reflection will remind us that we are in need of resources and wisdom beyond our own.

The famous poem “Invictus”, poet William Ernest Henley’s one claim to fame, boasts “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

The truth is something different. We are not masters of anything. We are frighteningly dependent. Watch the evening news and be reminded of how fragile this life is.

In kneeling, we find our place again, as people of the Lord’s pasture, small sheep in his care: "Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care." Psalm 95

We kneel now, in penance and petition, but we are also told there will come a time when all will kneel.  Isaiah tells us: "Before me every knee will bow;  by me every tongue will swear." (Isaiah 45) Paul repeats this in Romans 14:  “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’

Adoration of the Lamb ~ Jan Van Eyck
In Philippians 2, Paul expands this vision, to both a present reality (Jesus is already exalted, already give a name above every name), and a time in the future when we will kneel to acknowledge him:

 Therefore God exalted him
to the highest place
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
          Philippians 2

Jack Keroac, in his 'western haiku', questions the value of kneeling. What is your own experience of kneeling? How would you answer his question "Why kneel?"

 Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Days in the Desert

As part of my Lenten observation this year, I'm taking a break from writing new blog posts and updating and re-posting earlier material. Today's post was first shared on February 19, 2012
Desert with a Papelillo Tree, Lon&Queta, Mexico, 2007
Flickr Creative Commons

You, God, 
   are my God,
   earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,

   my whole being 
  longs for you,
in a dry 
   and parched land
   where there is no 
  (from Psalm 64)

The season of Lent is meant to remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the desert, in preparation for his ministry. It also echoes other desert passages: among them, the Israelites' forty years in the wilderness before entering the promised land, Elijah's forty days of waiting in a desert cave.

The theme of desert runs through scripture: Abraham’s desert years, between promise and fulfillment of an heir. Moses, running from Egypt, resigned to nomadic life far from his people.

Some deserts look a little different: Jacob’s fourteen years laboring for his father-in-law Laban. Joseph’s years in a dark prison cell.

Part of the desert experience is deprivation: the loss of comfort, familiarity, people we love, places we feel safe. 

But even more, the desert is a place of question: what did God have in mind? Why did he say I was chosen, only to be left here in this dry, desolate place?

The Israelites, facing the desert, wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt.

 Abraham took matters in his own hands: pretending Sarah was his sister, fathering a child by Hagar. 

The desert is a place of testing: what does faithfulness look like, when nothing is as we had hoped or imagined?

Our practice of Lent, giving up chocolate or dessert, fasting a meal or two each week, doesn’t get us far in our experience of desert. But for me, the season of Lent is a reminder to press in to that knowledge of desert we all carry with us.

We set out on this journey expecting life would be easy. Trusting God would meet every need. Certain our fellow travelers would support and encourage us along the way.

And then things took a turn. Our prayers seemed to go unanswered. Our struggles grew greater, not less. A trusted friend – a fellow Christian - betrayed us. Those we turned to for help looked the other way.

The wilderness, the desert, is part of this life of following Christ. It’s reassuring, even comforting, in a strange sort of way, to spend time each year remembering this. We sometimes think, in our desert times, that God has forgotten us, or that we must have imagined what we know to be true. Yet Jesus himself, God’s beloved son, was led into the desert by an angel.

David, “a man after God’s own heart,” logged plenty of time in the desert, and left us his desert songs to remind us:
Hear my prayer, Lord;
   let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
   when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
   when I call, answer me quickly.
 For my days vanish like smoke;
   my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
   I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud
   and am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl,
   like an owl among the ruins.
Psalm 102
Desert Scene, Mahatma4711, India, 2006
Flickr Creative Commons
The desert leads us back toward humility: we don’t have the answers. We aren’t in charge. We are small people, held in the hands of a mighty God.

I love the story of Elijah’s meltdown: he faced off the prophets of Ba’al and wicked king Ahaz with amazing boldness, then ran off to the wilderness and collapsed beneath a broom bush, saying: “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 

God sent an angel to feed him, and then Elijah traveled on for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God, where he had a rendezvous with God. The full story is in 1 Kings 19. It’s an encounter with mystery, with power, and a reminder that God is in charge, has a plan, and that Elijah is not alone: God is with him, and there are others who are faithful.

It helps to share our own stories of desert, to hear other’s stories, and to be reminded: the desert is part of the story. Not the start, definitely not the end. Psalm 107 encourages us: 
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
   his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
   those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
   from east and west, from north and south.
 Some wandered in desert wastelands,
   finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
   and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
   and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
   to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
   and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
   and fills the hungry with good things.
The desert isn’t the whole story, but it’s an important part. And in our desert times, we do well to remember: we don’t have the answers. We aren’t the ones in charge. We’re called to be faithful, and to wait in hope, even when waiting is hard, and hope seems impossible. Lent leads to Good Friday, and beyond that, to the resurrection. 
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
 You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
       (T.S. Eliot, East Coker III)
Desert(ed), Jarjan Fisher, Jordan, 2012, Flilckr Creative Commons

In what ways have your own desert experiences led your closer to God or to others?

What spiritual practices bring comfort or wisdom during your desert days?

 Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Leaning into Lent

As part of my Lenten observation this year, I'm taking a break from writing new blog posts and updating and re-posting earlier material. Today's post was first shared on February 19, 2012.

My childhood church tradition had no interest in Ash Wednesday, or Lent, or any of the seasons of the liturgical calendar. The idea of giving up something as a spiritual practice seemed superstitious: does God care if I eat chocolate or not?

Elijah icon, 
Yet, in a dry, thirsty time of my life, I was deeply fed by my encounter with a deeper liturgical practice, and after thirty years now in the Anglican tradition, I look forward to Lent the way I look forward to an hour of quiet at the end of a long, hard day.

Lent is an ancient practice – an attempt to approximate in some way the forty wilderness years of the Israelite people, the forty days in the desert of the prophet Elijah, and the forty days of fasting and temptation of Jesus at the start of his ministry. 

The examples of Moses, Elijah and of Jesus highlight the tension between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God

Moses and his people, newly escaped from slavery in Egypt, wandered in the desert – some wanting to go back to life under Pharoah, Moses insisting that God would provide. 

Elijah, after defying bloody King Ahab, and with Queen Jezebel on his trail, ran for his life to the desert, where he collapsed under a broom tree and begged God to take his life, then spent forty days traveling to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God. 

And Jesus himself, after forty days of fasting, was confronted with an offer of “all the kingdoms of this world and their splendor.”

Lent offers us a time to examine our own allegiances as we travel between kingdoms of earth and heaven. Small sacrifices are one way to help us focus, to shake free from what holds us. Some of my friends choose to fast one day a week, or give up Facebook, wine, dessert, coffee.

The point isn’t the small sacrifice. Rather, the sacrifice helps us set the time apart – a small, regular reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for us. 

But it’s also a reminder of our deep complicity in kingdoms we don’t understand, our hunger for the tastes of the old ways, our willingness to find comfort in material things rather than hunger and thirst for a deeper knowledge of God.

In Ephesians 4 Paul urged the church in Ephesus to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

That work will never be done, but Lent is a time to pause, and to ask: What should I be putting off? Where have I given control to things, to habits? What have I been feeding myself? Where am I headed? 

detail from Christ in the Wilderness,
Briton Riviere, England, 1898
It’s a time to look more deeply at my own attitudes. I usually give up sugar, which also means I give up coffee. In the withdrawal from both sugar and caffeine, my underlying attitudes surface quickly: Irritation. Impatience. Discouragement. Self-protection.

Lent can sound depressing, but I don’t find that to be the case. As addictions and harmful attitudes surface, I can acknowledge them, address them, and set them aside, ready to put on something new.

It’s a bit like retooling a computer. Over time, unused files, dumb downloaded games, the backload of cached internet files slows the system down. It takes time to erase unused programs, delete files no longer needed, adjust the start menu, optimize disk storage. It takes time, but it feels good to get it done, and the system runs better freed from the weight of digital detritus.

That sounds a bit mechanical – an analogy, but not a good one.

Because Lent, while it’s a time to confront our evasions, our half-believed lies, our self-protective inner story, is even more a time to draw closer to God.

The Israelites, out in the wilderness, experienced God’s presence in manna, in cloud and pillar of fire, in the tent of meeting.

Elijah, on Mount Horeb, experienced God’s presence in a new way, and heard God’s word of encouragement and instruction. 

And we, setting aside distractions, distortions, determined to shed whatever deceives us, prepare to know God better – in the sacrifice of Good Friday, in the joy of Easter, in the countless little ways that God’s grace meets us in moments of hunger, or prayer, or waiting.

There are lots of ways to approach Lent.

Tearfund and the Church of England offer The Carbon Fast:
Consciously adopting carbon-saving behaviours is sacrificial and provides a wonderful way to engage with the Lenten concerns of temptation, denial and salvation. We are called to change the world, but cannot do so without the Spirit.
  • We believe God is the Creator of the world and that we are entrusted with its care;
  • Lent is a time for sacrifice as we prepare to celebrate life in Christ at Easter;
  • Christians love the world and want to influence it for the good.
Christ in the Wilderness, Ivan Kramskoi, 1872, Moscow

Many churches and organizations offer their own Lenten resources: daily readings, weekly videos. Mustard Seed Associates has put together an exhaustive list of ideas, resources, and other Lenten materials

My own Lent will be a little different this year. I'll be traveling more than usual, and busy in a strange mix of ways, so plans to give up sugar (my fall-back practice) won't work. 

An article about an eight hour daily fast from Facebook and email has encouraged me to limit computer time (aiming for two hours a day) while another article about fasting not just from, but to, has me thinking about ways to listen better, pay deeper attention, find more in less. 

In all of this, I'll be praying for a life deeper than the surfaces where we so often find ourselves living.

Looking for a way to move beyond the flood of words I often find myself washed along in.

Watching, and waiting, for something new.  
Lord, You searched me and You know,
   It is You Who know when I sit and I rise,
          You fathom my thoughts from afar.
   My path and my lair You winnow,
          and with all my ways are familiar.
   For there is no word on my tongue
          but that You, O Lord, wholly know it.
         .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Search me, God, and know my heart,
         probe me and know my mind.
And see if a vexing way be in me,
         and lead me on the eternal way.
   (The Book of Psalms, 139, translated by Robert Alter)
What spiritual practices will you be exploring this Lent?

What resources would you recommend to others?

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