Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Lent-y" Lent

If you observe Lent, the forty days of penitence and fasting before Easter, you'll find there are years where Lent feels really "Lent-y" and other years where it seems to slip by on you. When I was in seminary, Lent never felt really "Lent-y" to me. Not because we didn't observe the rituals of Ash Wednesday, have quiet days and retreats, take time for penitential prayers, or observe the rituals of Holy Week. More because other things from the outside seemed to press in ... little things like projects and papers which had deadlines in Lent. Hard to get away with "giving up papers for Lent" in seminary ... sometimes the papers felt like penance in and of themselves.

This year, it's as if I'm making up for three years of Lent slipping by with seminary busyness. We had our Annual Meeting today at Gathered by Christ. It was the first one they've ever had in their 10 years of existence. The former vicar was very informal and didn't really do this kind of thing. No matter, this year we had to do it.

It was not easy to look these five families in the eye and be completely honest about our financial condition. Truth is they cannot afford my services, even as a part-time priest. Not that it's ever really been part-time ... more like part-time pay and full-time work. Church planting is never a part-time proposition! Anyway, the numbers don't lie. We have to come up with a faithful response to the situation and let God lead us in where we need to go. Sticking our heads in the sand and "hoping for a miracle" isn't a faithful response. If God wants to work a miracle, God's going to do it even if we do nothing! I think God will work a miracle, but it might not be what the congregation wanted it to be.

It is tempting to rely on the "hope for a miracle." I heard people say that at the bedside of dying patients when I did my Clinical Pastoral Education. Usually when we say that, we're really hoping God will do what we want rather than being open to what God wants. "Let's just hope for a miracle" ends up being a form of denial.

But God works with us and through our decisions. That's what we believe as Anglicans. We ground our faith on Scripture, Tradition and Reason. This means we use Scripture and Tradition to inform our faith, but they are held in tension with our God-given Reason. God gave us a brain and expects us to use it. I think God wants to work in partnership with us when the going gets tough - God does not want us to shirk our responsibility for working through the options. If we bail out with the "hope for a miracle" approach, we take no responsibility for the outcome and then we can blame God for not pulling a rabbit out of the hat in the 11th hour. That sure can leave us with a damaged relationship with the Lord!

So Lent is turning very "Lent-y" as we begin a process of discernment on the Tuesdays of Lent. We will meet weekly to pray, tell our stories, contemplate specific questions about what God is doing in our individual lives and how that impacts the group. Through this process, we'll see how stories from Scripture intersect with our stories. And out of this, the Holy Spirit will be present and will begin to clarify where this is all heading.

So Lent will be "Lent-y" this year ... and resurrection will happen. It won't take the form we thought it would, but I'm looking forward to how God is going to surprise us all.


Sally said...

a challenging and yet hopeful post- prayers that all will be well

Virtual Vicar said...

Thanks Sally! Dame Julian of Norwich is my guide - All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Singing Owl said...

Facing the truth about finances--yes, I empathize. I just did that with my church as well. (Two more weeks before it is no longer "my" church.) I've been quoting Julian of Norwich too. Blessings on all of you. I'm not praying for miracles for my folks. I am praying for faithfulness, obedience, and where called for, sacrifice. I'll pray the same for yours right now.

Virtual Vicar said...

Dear Singing Owl,

You will be in my prayers too! I'm convinced when we pray for faithfulness and obedience, God will make a miracle happen. It won't look like anything we envision, though, so we often do not see it as a miracle in the moment. But it is a miracle when we can let go and let God.