Since Monday I’ve been having some back pain. When you have fibromyalgia and you have two toddlers that you may or may not pick up all the time, it’s not all that surprising to have some aches and pain. Generally I would just think no big deal but, I couldn’t sleep last night and ended up having a fitful night of sleep on my back. I never, ever sleep on my back. Yep, I feel like I’m whining now, and on Ash Wednesday no less.
I’m preaching the Ash Wednesday sermon tonight at a local church and the students are tagging along with me. One of our students is hearing impaired and she and her amazing interpreter, one of our other students are both coming tonight. Erica (the interpreter) was excited about going until I told her I was preaching. Just kidding…a bit. She knows that I talk fast and my hands are always moving and trying to interpret with my randomness is an exercise in and of itself. She asked if I could give her some notes about what I’m preaching on. That’s fair, right?
But all I can think about is this dull and sometimes sharp ache in my back. It is driving me crazy today. To dust we will become, heck – we’re already beginning to fall apart and feel like that dust sometimes. As much as this distracts me from work, having a coherent conversation with someone, actually being pastoral or even listening at all at this point, I think about all those that deal every day with a dull or sharp pain. This pain is not always physical, but often emotional, spiritual, psychological, really real. We each carry around past hurts or wounds. We each have moments of uncertainty, fear, and doubt in the midst of painful situations or the reminders of those painful situations.
I read a post on neue magazine earlier today (http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fneuemagazine.com%2Findex.php%2Fblog%2F6-main-slideshow%2F1200-lent-and-fasting-from-the-voice-in-your-head%3Futm_source%3DNeue%2BWeekly%26utm_campaign%3Db18167bb08-Neue_Weekly_03_09_11%26utm_medium%3Demail&h=e24ef) that talked about fasting from the voice inside your head. The voice that tells you you’re not good enough, smart enough or pretty enough. The voice that tells you that you would be so much happier or more fulfilled if you would just…
I get that. I think that’s a great focus this season to let go of some of those voices, some of that negativity. I love that intentionality and purpose of reminding oneself repeatedly that there is someone greater that you belong to, respond to, and answer to – not just some voice inside your head.
If this Ash Wednesday brings a day that marks the beginning of a season of repentance and spiritual renewal, then we have to ask ourselves the hard questions. I love some of the ones that Rachel Held Evans lifts up in her blog, http://rachelheldevans.com/40-ideas-for-lent-2011. What do we need to repent from? What consistently stands in our way to feel the freedom of Christ? What voices or people or hurts or situations have held us back from that abundant life? What are those fears and doubts that we can let go and repentant of during this season? How can we move closer and closer to that freedom, even if it means making hard choices and decisions?
And then drawing towards that spiritual renewal, how can we be more intentional in our drawing closer to God? Does that mean giving up facebook, or does that mean we’re intentional and Christ-centered when we post, comment or spend time on facebook? Just like this blog (http://penelopepiscopal.blogspot.com/2011/03/are-you-christian-giving-up-social.html) writes, I’d hate for Christians to stop shining their lights during a season when the world needs to hear and know the power of repentance and also resurrection.
In a recent column in Entertainment Weekly, Mark Harris writes a piece called “Taking Multitasking to Task.” I loved it. It really spoke to me in profound ways about how we’re living this world in which doing everything is expected and when you don’t it’s frowned upon. For some of us, instead of diving into the hard stuff, the more difficult, the more challenging, we’ll keep consuming a lot of the easier or more fluff things, just so that we can do a gazillion things at once and say that we’re connected and on top of things. For some of us, trying to be all places for all people is easier when we skim the surface and don’t take time to listen, reflect, discern and really meet with people or God. Maybe y’all don’t relate to that. He closes his piece with, “I have friends who’ve recently taken their own steps toward reclaiming control–one is trying internet-free Sundays; another has sworn off texting while in the presence of actual human beings. So, in that spirit, this year I plan to hold to the principle that half of my focus is always the wrong amount–that someitmes the TV can go off, or the laptop can be put away, or Google can wait. I’m going to try to undivide my attention, and see if my entertainment choices (and my thoughts about them) get any sharper as a result. It couldn’t hurt. Well, that’s a lie. The scary thing is, it hurts already.” He’s talking about entertainment, but there’s a part of Lent in there for me.
What do we give our full attention? A more pertinent question to me probably – do I ever give anything my full attention? Are we running through our to do lists for the day when we do our morning devotion or are our minds in ten different places as we’re working on our sermons or our small groups or our Sunday school classes? What gets our full attention?
When I look at how these 40 days are supposed to be a time of Spiritual Renewal, I have to ask myself honestly where my attention and focus will be and how I’m going to invite the Spirit to lead me and guide me in the disciplines or the actions that will be undertaken. If I’m doing it, just to have an answer when someone asks me what I’m giving up or adding for Lent, then that’s rubbish.
There’s something that he said at the end of the article. He says, “The scary thing is, it hurts already.” I’m not saying we beat ourselves up for Lent and what we give up or add shouldn’t be a contest for who is the most devout Christian (although I do wonder how many viewers that tv show would get week to week.) We need to discern where we are. We need to focus our attention on the Word of God and see what will help draw us towards repentance and renewal and go with it – with the grace, mercy, leading and strength of One who knows us far better than we even know ourselves.
Two things I’ll leave you with. There some of my favorite things to use during Lent. The first is from Jan Richardson’s In Wisdom’s Path. She says, “The season begins with ashes and invites us into a time of stripping away all that distracts us from recognizing the God who dwells at our core. Reminding us that we are ashes and dust, God beckons us during Lent to consider what is elemental and essential in our lives. As a season of preparation for the mysteries of death and resurrection, it is a stark season.” Hopefully it’s not just a stark season – something different than normal – but a rich season.
Roberta Porter is one of my most favorite writers for Alive Now, she writes in her prayer,
Culture’s message is immediate
But when I hungrily seek control
in my power, with my plans,
I am full, brimming over
with empty calories,
and strangely unfulfilled.
I pray to be broken open – unafraid
of change – and pour out pride.
My Spirit fast teaches me
as I am willing to yield,
more space for grace appears,
and more of Christ,
Bread of Life,
When the ashes are put upon our heads either this morning, midday, tonight, may we remember that we are dust and to dust we will become again and may we take the days and months and years ahead to focus and retreat to the One who goes before us, beside us, and sometimes even pushing us to grasp hold of this thing called abundant life.
One last one, because I love this one too. Also from Alive Now the March/April 2001 edition…
Quiet Day Retreat
To be quiet, both without and within —
to welcome silence and space
and unbroken meditation.
I have not given up food
— the typical fast —
but I’ve emptied my mind
for an hour, or a day.
I’ve overturned it like a bowl,
forbidding entry of my plans, my chores.
Then come thoughts and reflections,
then come inspiration
and then I can return refreshed
to the frantic daily world.
What sort of fast is this?
A fast from calendars, schedules, from self-important busyness.
Or is it a feast?
A feast of stillness, reverence, waiting.
No matter — I am renewed and filled
with precious gifts of spirit and God’s presence.
– Nadine N. Doughty