Sunday, March 30, 2014

Can I See a Pattern If I Cross My Eyes?

It starts becoming a strange experience to read the upcoming Sunday lectionary early in the week, thus having it to reflect on throughout the week. But, of course, come the end of the week, all the free time that I thought I would have evaporates and I'm left without time to actually write down those reflections that I made.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a monk, having that daily cycle of prayer and worship. I would definitely be a Benedictine (yes, I have given this thought) because their cycle of ora et labora, reading and work, seems so profound to me. But the flip side of that life would be that it's not restful in a physical sort of way. They've got to get up at the butt-crack of dawn for prayer and then they need to start working, really only taking breaks for food and for chapel. But what I'm driving at is that they hear the daily lectionary and they have that to meditate every day. Daily scripture, not just weekly scripture. I've tried my own version of that discipline before... I don't think it's the sort of stuff that you would try to sit down and write reflections to every day. There's just too much, I think.

Anyway, here is the lectionary for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I Think There's Something in the Water...

I'm giving a shot at something new in regard to my Lenten discipline: I've read the lectionary for the Third Sunday in Lent and I'm going to give my reactions before Sunday. How preacher-ish of me, no?

So if you didn't already click on the link above, let me sum up the readings:

Old Testament from Exodus: The Israelites are wandering in the desert, they get discouraged and they start yelling at Moses. Moses implores God to give him something to work with, so God tells him to go strike a rock with his staff in the presence of all the elders of Israel. Water flows from the rock and they rename the place that it happens (I particularly like the Brick Testament's rendition of this story).

Psalm 95: ... I don't like summarizing psalms. Go read it.

Epistle, Paul's letter to the Romans: Paul restates that we are justified by faith. There is a lot of philosophical description of the sacrifice Jesus made for complete love of us.

The Gospel, according to John: First off, this reading is 37 verses long. It requires a lot of attention to follow. It is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and the conversation that she and Jesus have. But after that exchange of words, the disciples come back, asking Jesus questions, and then there is an account of the Samaritan woman telling about what happened and what the Samaritans then do.

Let me now go on record admitting that this is the first Lenten season that I've really paid attention to the readings from week to week. I almost wish that I hadn't, because, thus far, they have made almost no sense. First was Jesus going out into the wilderness (which I understand having first in Lent), but then I heard a new take on what the temptations meant. Then we had the story of Nicodemus, which is difficult to relate to the lessons learned in the wilderness. Now we have the Samaritan woman. And this is to say nothing of the other Epistles, Old Testament stories or psalms.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Two Sundays, another event, and a meme walk onto my blog...

So first, a confession: I decided to take on, as my Lenten discipline, a cycle of reading the lectionary and reflecting on it. I haven't done well by that. Mea culpa. But, on the other hand, there are more experiences than just that that I would like to reflect on and share with you, O dear reader. So allow me to do so...

The Revised Common Lectionary for the First Sunday in Lent:
The basic story for the first Sunday in Lent involves Jesus going out into the desert. There is no direct mention in it this year, but we teach that he goes out for 40 days of fasting and prayer. And we attribute the motive for this event to the Holy Spirit. I always chuckle at this last part, only because I found this joke last year:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stepping into the Ashes, or, A Reflection Is Better Late Than Never

I have been an Episcopalian for over 25  years now and I still find Ash Wednesday to be one of the stranger experiences each year. I mean, I realize that liturgical rituals are weird when taken out of context anyway, and I know that Christian discourse sounds like gibberish to some. But at other worship ceremonies, you leave the worship edified and revitalized. When you leave on Ash Wednesday, you have ashes stuck to your forehead.

I remember when I was younger, I struggled with that situation, having ashes on my head for anyone to see. Other boys in my confirmation class would rub off the ashes as soon as we left the church. I would look at myself in every bathroom mirror and window reflection, seeing this strange, dark smudge. I knew it had to do with being marked as one of Christ's and that it was a reminder that we are created by God and we eventually return to God, but often I felt like I was bearing that mark like it was a target. I didn't know which person would take aim on my way home and start asking me questions that I had no good way to answer.

And this was in the evening, mind you. When I got into college, I had the bright idea to go each year to get my ashes in the morning, before I started my classes for the day. Truth be told, I kind of relished the countercultural piece of that; I let myself feel superior to my classmates. I knew most of them would go get theirs later that evening, since we were at St. Thomas and that was something they did, but I would stop in front of each mirror and check to make sure that my ashes were still in place. Check to make sure that everyone could see what I believed. I'm not proud of the attitude I had, but I tell it to you because it really only emphasizes that I've had strange memories from these years past on Ash Wednesday.

At any rate, my rhetorical question to you is this: what are the ashes? Are they only good for marking you as a Christian, complete with all the baggage that secular and religious society bring to bear on that term? Is it our "cross to bear" for that day? I ask these questions rhetorically, even though I have no answers to them, myself.

The scripture readings for Ash Wednesday are multi-layered (go figure) and so it's hard to say for sure that they'r helpful. On the topmost level, they have to do with penance; putting on sackcloth and ashes. But I would also contend that the focus of them is on what happens after the penance is made.

The Old Testament from Isaiah describes the way that Israel has been fasting and making themselves right by God and the psalm has us listening to the voice of someone who is grappling with repentance and trying to find a way back to the Lord. The Gospel (this year from Matthew) tells us not to be like the hypocrites, who make shows of their penance and they disfigure their faces when they fast (I really find it interesting how the scripture is so interested in fasting on this day). So what do we do in our tradition? We put ashes on our foreheads in order to show that we are starting Lent! How odd...

But, that being said (written), I think there has to be some physical sign of Lent's beginning. I think that Lent, more than any other liturgical season, calls us to change our physicality. Worship calls us to become more visceral. We're called to introspection and sacrifice. We kneel more because it's not comfortable, physically or emotionally. We admit the things we've done wrong right away in liturgy, hardly before anybody has had a chance to say anything else. We're not surrounded by the niceties we're used to, either. Gone are the gigantic frontals on the altar. Gone are the big hangings and the flowers. They're replaced by simple purple or white garments and the adornment around the sanctuary is now limited to stark illustrations of Christ's Passion; the Stations of the Cross. All of this because the season is echoing Christ's forty days in the desert, which echoes Israel's forty years of wandering.

"Austere" is the word that comes to mind. I think this season is about paring down the pageantry. I think it's about an austerity of heart, too. When I was younger, I was told to do away with something that I indulged myself with and then to call it a Lenten discipline. The austerity I treasure now comes from self reflection. I admit my faults and I humble myself at all times, not just when I approach the altar to receive Christ. And God forgives me, which in this time of absence, seems to nearly be overwhelming. I diminish myself and God tells me that I'm worth it all. That is truly humbling.

Perhaps I treasure this desert time because it allows me to prepare myself to receive the grace that is always streaming in from God. Perhaps I treasure this desert time because it ends on Easter Sunday, when everything is made new.