Lenten Possibilities

Some days
one needs to hide
from possibility
      {Kooser and Harrison}

Recently, Wyatt pronounced a liberating confession. "Dad, I'm going to start watching TV instead of Netflix."

"Why?" I asked.

"Well, Netflix has a 1,000 choices, and I can never choose. But the TV only offers three choices. That's better."

We were not made for vast infinity. We were made to be creatures with limitations. Some resist this axiom and pursue a dogged determination to contravene the fact that our body is sagging, our energy fleeting, our years narrowing. What are midlife crises other than a panicked effort to wrench every conceivable possibility from the past and ride it wildly into the present? I speak as a man who has moved into that mid-life shadowland.

But it is a grace to know our place, to know that we are not defined by our possibilities, whether missed or exploited. We are defined by the one who has loved us – and by the love that, having settled into our heart, eeks out meagerly and lavishly to the ones we are uniquely able to love. To live with perpetual options is to never settle into gritty and particular living, into gritty and particular love. Only God is able to truly love the whole world. And we are not God.

To try to live everywhere is to never truly live anywhere. To try to love, with equal fervor, all things is to never deeply and generously love anything. To attempt to live another person's expectations is to surrender the one true thing you have to give. Let the young have their limitless paths – there's a grace in that too. Yet the hope is not to roam eternally, but to find the place of belonging. And then belong.

Lent is a grace because it strikes at the idol of endless possibility. When, on Ash Wednesday, we are marked with burnt soot, we hear the words from dust you came and to dust you will return. Dust doesn't have numerous options; its trek is pretty much complete. Of course, dust isn't the end. There's Resurrection and new creation and all the truths that kindle our faith. But first: dust.

There are many (in the church as much as anywhere else) pushing endless visions of all we might accomplish, but Lent asks us to take an honest look at all that. Lent asks us (could we please, just for this stretch of 40 days) to be more discriminating, more present. Sometimes to seek your one truth thing, you have to hide from hundreds of others.

The Saturday Between

On this day of stone-silence,
We sit fixed in the Saturday between.
Between tears and joy.
Between poverty and plenty.
Between ruin and triumph.
Between despair and delight.
Between forgotten and welcomed.
Between fearful and joyful.
Between war and war no more.
Between dark and light.
Between gloom and glory.
Between tears and laughter.
Between death. And life.
We sit fixed, riveted, in this Saturday between.

And this moment
Casts a pale, hallow light
Over the Long Saturday,
The many days
Where the world waits. Between.

But between is not the end, never is.
It is only between.

From Death to Life

You’ve got to give yourself to something in order to truly experience it. You can’t know the deep ocean waters unless you dive in – not even the BBC’s Planet Earth (good as it is) allows you to taste the salty sea or get that short panicky sensation when a high wave envelops you in crashing, rushing, drowning torrents.

For weeks, we’ve remembered death, via lent. And we haven’t watched it from afar; we’ve submerged ourselves in it. We’ve tasted our sadness and sat with our sorrows. We’ve faced up to our failures and our hollow places. We’ve mourned over injustice, and we’ve been quiet enough to sense our longing for redemption. All this is to say we’ve come nose-to-nose with the reality of sin, what the Puritans referred to as “the plague of plagues.”

But death is not the central character in God’s story, the Good story. In God’s story, death is the villain, the ruinous beast that brings havoc but in the end, gets it just desserts.

Life – that’s where God’s story leads. When God finishes a story, the villain is finished, the child is found, the shattered pieces are beautiful again. When God says the end, the hungry aren’t hungry anymore, the lonely aren’t lonely anymore – and the tomb is magnificently empty.

So, in these days ahead, I’m giving myself to resurrection. I’m going to allow life to slip in, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sometimes believing something good is a whole lot harder than believing something bad. I love it that Eastertide stretches out a good bit longer than Lent. In God’s way of reckoning, the beautiful always outlasts the ugly.

The way that our church All Souls Charlottesville entered life and death during this season was truly a story to live in. Read about it, if you like.

Silent Saturday: The Last Day of Lent

Lent draws to a close. For those who haven’t participated in the Lenten Twitter posts, here are a few from the past couple of weeks.

Ponder. Wait. Sit in these silent hours. Joy comes in the morning.

|Good Friday|
The darkest darkness settles over all the kingdoms of men. God has murdered himself.

Sin is shalom-breaking. 
{Cornelius Plantiga}

The Psalms act as good psychologists. They defeat our tendency to try to be holy without being human first. {Kathleen Norris}

Repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying “I’m sorry,” than to the future and saying, “Wow!” {Frederich Buechner}

One is changed by what one loves. {Joseph Brodsky}

Settling Into Lent

We enter the bright sadness. Sad for all that is broken. Bright for what God will awaken. But now the earth is silent and sorrowful.

The calendar tells me I am well into Lent. However, I don’t know how well I’m into the practices and fasts I’ve taken on; they’re coming, but it’s been harder than last year to create the space I want (but resist).

This year, Miska has chosen for me (each of us choose the others’ practice) to be off the computer every night by 8:00 and to have 30 minutes of silence 5 days a week. The computer has been no biggie, but the silence has been more difficult. I’ve fallen asleep. I’ve daydreamed. I’ve chased rabid thoughts around in mental circles, kind of like our dog Daisy when she performs her nightly ritual of chasing her tail in mad whirls.

But at least I’ve shown up, and I know I want more. Grace and quiet and longing invite me in.

I’ve put a daily Lenten post on Twitter. Here is a taste:

Lent is…a preparation to rejoice in God’s love…casting out what cannot remain in the same room with mercy. {Thomas Merton}
Ashes are the end of things. The end of what we can make of our world. Our schemes and disguises mercifully burnt to the ground.

The beginning of repentance is homesickness. {Will Weedon}
We thrash. We flail. We angle, primp and prop up. Then in shame, we douse and we shrink. Will someone save us from ourselves?

Snag all of them throughout Lent, if you like.

Lenten Tweets

Rest assured, the irony of this post’s title is not lost on me. Perhaps no two words in the English language belong together less.

I’ve resisted Twitter. I’ve gone back and forth and then back and then forth. I don’t need more noise. They tell me writers must avail themselves of such things, but I don’t want to use these mediums merely for marketing. And, of course, no one cares one whit to know that:  

12:07  I’m leaving for lunch now 

12:11  I’m driving to lunch

12:19  I’m sitting in line at Burger King because Wendy’s was packed, man, packed!

12:21  Dude, can you believe these lines!?! Still sitting in line. Catching up on facebook, though, so that’s cool

12:23  Burgers are yummy, yo

12:31  Heading back to the office, filled and fulfilled

12:33  Listening to 80’s tunes in the ride, and 80’s rock!

12:38  At the office, 3 hours and 17 minutes to quitting time – but only 91 seconds to my next tweet.

Oh my, we can barely wait.

This week, I’m at a conference in DC; and in this room filled with young culturally-savvy turks, the computers (mostly mac, of course) are constantly humming and the phones (mostly iphone, of course) are constantly zinging. It makes me dizzy. Some of these chaps amaze me with their ability to quatro-task

Still, I’ve had this thought of offering a daily Tweet during Lent. I hesitated, knowing I would instantly lose my aspiring Ludite, anti-tweet cred. But Lent is for giving up and surrendering. Strangely, for me, I think this means I’ll tweet. For Lent.

This Lenten season is going to be important for me, I feel it. I’d love to share it with you. If you’d like to get the tweet each day over the next 40 days, you can follow me here. And if you have no idea what twitter or tweet or follow me mean, well, that’s quite alright.

Lent: Into Holy Week

I have a friend who describes himself as a “planner.” Me, not so much. We both had to create similar strategic documents mapping out future plans and projections. His was 64 pages plus a bibliography. I stretched mine to 5 (and it might not have made it past two if I hadn’t cut and pasted info I already had from other places).

If I could banish one word from the English language, it would be systematic. Too much emphasis on calendars or protocol or uniformity often makes me feel stifled, trapped, locked-in. Last time Miska was away, I let the boys wear the same clothes (maybe even underwear – I don’t really remember) multiple days. I mean, why change out clothes just because of a little stink? If Seth loves his batman t-shirt, then what’s an extra day or two or three going to hurt?

Usually, if you tell me something has to be done a certain way, I’m almost certain to immediately consider that a challenge to be swiftly contradicted. In arguments with Miska (hypothetical, of course), I at times find myself in emotionally and intellectually untenable positions simply because I’ve played the devil’s advocate to the point of absurdity. But, really, who says that Spring has to follow Winter, hmmm? Who? Often, it isn’t until I find myself alone in the room with no one to argue with because Miska simply gave me that wow-you-just-did-it-again-and- in-a-half-hour-or-so-you-are-going-to-feel-really-stupid-when-you- apologize-for-this-one look and walked out.

As I’ve said, I don’t like having much of anything laid on me. Not that this is good (in fact, it often isn’t) – it’s just the truth.

However, I have grown to appreciate the imposition of the Christian calendar. Every year, in almost monotonous cycles, we move from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost, all the way back to Advent again. Every year. Like clockwork, literally. We don’t make it up. We don’t push it forward. The seasons come when they come. We just wait and receive them, live them (or don’t), and then watch them pass.

We can make much of the seasons, or we can make little. We can celebrate them, or we can ignore them. No matter, they come. And they go. The question for us is simply whether or not we will allow them to waken our heart, to pull us into The Grand and Mysterious Story.

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, we embarked on the journey through Holy Week. This week, we walk (if we choose to) with Jesus through his week of Passion. This week is happening, all around us. Grace and mercy and hope and repentance are happening, all around us. We may not feel it. We may barely remember amid projects or diapers or broken down cars or broken down hearts. Our sin or our confusion or our fear may gobble up every ounce of mental energy.

But all you have to do is sit down. Sit your body down. Sit your mind down. And look around you. Look with your ears. Listen with your heart.

Holy Week is happening. Jesus is marching toward his cross. The Resurrection is only days away. It is coming whether we pay attention or not. This imposition is a grace. It isn’t up to you. Or me. We have little say in the matter.

Jesus moves. Redemption comes. Whether we notice or not – that is the only piece left to us.

Hoping to notice,

Lent: Where This Time is Taking Me

We are nearing the homestretch of Lent. This has been a significant journey. Forty days – it isn’t exactly eternal, but in our instant society, forty days of anything tests our will and discipline. Really, for me, I think Lent simply tests our attention. Can I pay attention to God’s ongoing work for a stretch of days? Must I always be moving on to the next thing, the next truth, the rush, the next idea? Can I just sit and wait and hope and listen and receive?

And this is not all sour stuff. As I read this morning, one writer pointed out how the Taize Book of Common Prayer refers to Lent’s forty days as “a celebration of the joy of God’s forgiveness.” I like that.

Hear are a few things this stretch of Lent is telling me (reminds me, really):

+I am too tied to technology, particularly email. I want to shut it down more often.

+Food is intended for joy and pleasure (as well as nourishment, of course), but it can also be a way of hiding. In my youth, food (and lots of it) was one of our few acceptable vices. Now, I often run to food when I’m bored or anxious or angry or afraid. I’d rather run to God.

+God wants to heal my broken places; he really does.

+I love my wife and boys … (in the words of Dick Cheney) big time.

+Something’s up. God is stirring. God is moving. Risk and joy and life ahead.

Has Lent reminded you of any truths?

peace / Winn

Lent: Lenten Zerberts

To look at the last great self-portraits of Rembrandt or to read Pascal or hear Bach’s B-minor Mass is to know beyond the need for further evidence that if God is anywhere, he is with them, as he is also with the man behind the meat counter, the woman who scrubs floors at Roosevelt Memorial, and the high school math teacher who explains fractions to the bewildered child. Frederick Buechner

My spiritual experience goes two ways: full of mystery and complexity and utter confusion but also (and often at the same time) the most concrete, plain-as-day reality. Some days, the whole thing feels like the tangled, cuss-inducing mess of wires that hides behind the amoir housing our stereo and speakers and tv and vcr and cd player and xbox and gamecube (for the boys, of course) – just an unworkable mess that I will never make sense of. What is happening? What am I to do? What is God saying? Why is this all so dang complicated?

Other days, though, there is no mystery, no confusion. It’s simple, really. Pray a prayer. Take a walk. Kiss my wife. Call a friend. Give my son a zerbert . God is in the zerbert as much as he is in my fasting or my wrestling with a text or in my self-reflection about the state of my soul. Buechner insists we not forget: God is with the man at the meat counter too.

This week, Lent has appeared to me in simpler, plainer ways. Lent is an old word and can invoke (often, properly) a sense of introspection and mediation and somber repentance. Sometimes, though, repentance takes shape in earthier, plainer acts. Like these of the past five or six days:

+Monday morning, I got up and did Turbo Jam with my wife. If you are unfamiliar, Turbo Jam is what you would get if you took Tae Bo to a techno dance club on ladies’ night. I don’t know what the morning exercise did for my man-o-meter, but somehow, being with her that morning just felt like the thing to do.

+yesterday, I stopped working for a few minutes to play checkers with Seth. My generosity ended with my time – I did beat him. I have to get wins in now; it won’t last long.

+Miska and I went to this fabulous restaurant (O – yup, that’s the name, just O. Chic, huh?) in downtown Greenville this weekend, and I bought Miska a spring dress from Sundance. All splurges, but I just wanted to throw caution to the wind and be reckless in my love for this amazing woman.

+a time or two, when fear or shame slammed against my heart, I just shrugged my shoulders and kept strolling (perhaps channeling the spirit of Miska’s new shame-ignoring word, whatev…)

+I ordered Italian sausage pizza. I never order red meat pizza anymore (and for good reason). I won’t do this often, but this one time when the moment hit, I just looked at cholesterol and said – (that’s right) – whatev

For me, these moments were all in the spirit of Lent, surrendering to God’s reality and truth. Stepping out of my own story and into the story of the Gospel.

Lenten joy / Winn

Lent: And the Frogs Will Sing Again

There are two nights in farm life that matter the most every year: the night the frogs begin to croak and the night when the fireflies begin to mate, lighting the whole of our fields with thousands of frantically blinking lights bent on attracting one another into a reproductive orgy. The fireflies dance, usually in early May, and signal with their fervor that summer has officially begun, as far as Mother Nature is concerned. When the frogs cry, Spring has begun. Phyllis Tickle

God is doing something. I feel it in my soul, in my bones.

I recently looked – really looked – at our oldest son, Wyatt. He’s only five (five and a half, he’ll tell you), but I see in his eyes and his expression, hear in the tone of his words, the young man he is becoming. We spent Friday night at the house of friends, and one of our friends asked Wyatt what sports he was playing. Wyatt’s answer was simple, nondescript. “Soccer,” he said. But there was something in the word, the way it came out of his mouth, the way his tall body straddled the bench where he sat, that gave me a premonition, an early glance of the man he will be growing into. It was all so slight, but there are some things only a father sees.

And oh how I want to see. I want to see my son’s passion and fear and energy – and I want to call him to his courage, to his boldness, to his place in this world. And Seth, our youngest, ever bit as much. I want to see his wild dance and his mad, artistic creativity and his easily bruised heart – and I want to call him to his voice, to his dangerous tenderness, to his place in this world.

I want to see my boys. I want to call these truths out of them. And I will. By God’s mercy, I will. But it will take time. It will take patience. I will have to wade through their sin and their fear and their shame and their hesitation and their questions and their rebellion. That’s just what dads who want to give themselves to their sons do.

I also am a son. I also have sin and fear and hesitation and questions and rebellion. And my good Father, bold and generous, sees my passion and panic, my shame as well as my wild dancing, my moments of gritty courage right along with the moments I surrender my true identity and cower in the corner. And my strong Father calls me forth, calls me into newness, calls me to my true self in Jesus. But it will take time. It will take patience. That is what a Father who wants to give himself to his sons and his daughters does.

This is the beauty of Lent – it is a time for time. A long season, not a fleeting day. Over these forty days, we can see God’s slow, steady work. Often, it will not be dramatic or immediate. It will be awakening, morning after morning, to another day of sensing God birthing both fresh and old truths in our heart. It will be a steady (almost plodding at times) re-ordering ourselves, one day after the other, to how truly desperate we are for God.

As we sit in this season of repentant hope, we are purposefully reminding ourselves each day that time is necessary for God to make us into the person he intends for us to be. Lent is a season to wait, to listen, to hope for the Easter that is not yet here. This is why, in many Christian traditions, the “Alleluia” is not prayed during daily prayers. This is not yet the season for Alleluia – that is coming. Indeed, our every hope bends toward that Resurrection moment. But we are not there yet. Not yet. Now, we wait. And we let God do God’s work.

And blessedly, in these weeks when “Alleluia” is denied to me, the frogs are driven to assert it. Out of the slime and wet of our winter pond, they raise their resurrection cry: We will be again.
Phyllis Tickle

waiting peace / Winn

+Phyllis Tickle has a Lenten blog going. It’s beautiful.