Lent is nearly upon us. I’m perennially surprised by how this time, set aside as preparation for Easter, seems to arrive before I’m mentally ready. We are busy dealing with snow and winter, and Easter is surely about Spring!
Most of you know my attachment to the liturgical year as a structure that maintains a spiritual rhythm through the ages… whether we’re fully ready or not. Lent recalls how Jesus' first act of ministry was to go and face temptation in the wilderness for 40 days and nights, a seemingly interminable time. Those forty days of preparation and discernment are what we mirror in the structure of time with our Lenten Journey. But often Lent seems too easily disconnected from conversations of discerning how best to live in our relationship with God. Perhaps some of the challenge is that often the language within the Church focuses on our having the right understanding instead of discerning the actions of faithfulness.
My soul has always resonated with language of journey- for when we are focused on the journey, we are paying attention to the present moment instead of merely the destination ahead. Journeys can be grace-filled places, but they can also be places of anxiety - for sometimes we just want to know when we will arrive… or what the right answer is. In that space, I want to loudly whisper that arrival is a state of being, not a destination.
How would we read the Church’s stories if we focused on that relational journey with God instead of merely seeking the right answer? In part, we might ponder the way that we tell our story.
Luke proclaims: “Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry.” (3:23) Last week there was a devotional from Mary Luti that got me thinking about how we talk about our journeys of discernment. The devotional pondered what Jesus was doing from birth to 30 years old (scripture only records one moment in the story, when Jesus slips away from his parents and makes an appearance in the temple). Mary Luti imagined Jesus working hard in his father’s woodshop, curls of wood in his hair. And somewhere in that work, Jesus must discern his path. She writes: “Each of us has our work, too. A purpose we find in the overlap of who we are, what we're good at, what we love, and what our human neighborhood is needing. Work that generates motivating joy as we lend ourselves to it. Work that makes us more fully who we were created to be, as we give ourselves away in doing it.
Sometimes our work coincides with our jobs. Sometimes it doesn't; it disrupts and uproots us. Sometimes it leads to great public achievements. Often, it's as hidden as Jesus was in those first twenty-nine. Whatever it is, we're meant to seek and find this work that is seeking us. We're meant to turn thirty, which we can do at any age. The important thing isn't how old we are when we find it. The important thing is that, like Jesus, once we find it, we step out in trust and do it.”
We know what stepping out looked like for Jesus’ ministry. For three very full years, Jesus’ passion overflowed with teaching, preaching, healing, feeding, and helping people to grow in their relationship with God in nearly every way imaginable. That’s the journey into which we should be leaning – the living relationship with God, not the static, right-answer kind of faith. Have you ever wondered why our Creeds manage to render that passionate journey of ministry for Jesus as: [he was] “born, suffered, was crucified, died, and on the third day rose again and ascended into heaven…”? The Church’s creedal certainties speak nothing about what Jesus did; they just answer who he is from a doctrinal standpoint. The Jesus who inspires us to want to follow or emulate his ministry, vanishes into a series of answers to some of the church’s internal questions from a particular moment in history.
I believe our faith is always calling us into a deeper relationship with a dynamic God who will always transcend our limits. This is a God who chooses to journey with us in the unnamed spaces, the 29 years, the 40 days, and the lifetime of celebrating every moment as opportunity to be surprised again by the love and wonder of God.
This Lent we will once again journey on Wednesday nights with our 9th grade confirmation class sharing some of their reflections. We’ll journey together in the questions, not the answers. We will gather in beloved community and sing Holden Evening Prayers and see where it is that God is still speaking to our souls with new life. I believe this is the true Lenten journey to which we are called. Blessings on our journey together,