I love Lent. It's the Church's time of "New Year's Resolutions," a time to examine oneself, and make a plan to address a shortcoming or two. Shortcomings are those things that stand in the way of our fullest possible relationship with God, of course. God absolutely longs to be in relationship with all of creation. We humans erect barrier after barrier to that intimacy that is our true home. Lent is a chance to live more fully into that relationship between creature and Creator. It's less about sackcloth and ashes than it is about the mutual longing between Lover and beloved.
We had our usual Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner at church, and it was lovely -- 40 or so people gathered together to eat pancakes, celebrate Mardi Gras in our dignified, Episcopalian way (still with much laughter and fellowship), and just be "family" with this group of people who have chosen to worship and celebrate together on this mountain. The men's group cooked; the women's group served. I blessed the food, ate heartily, wandered around socializing (not the easiest thing for someone who's a classic introvert), and went home, satisfied in body and soul.
On Ash Wednesday we had two services, 10 am and 6 pm. We had 45 people between the 2 services, which is extremely good for a weekday service, even a fairly momentous one, liturgically and ecclesiastically. It's a big day in the Church, kind of like Good Friday in significance -- but for most of the world, it's really "just another day." In between our services, I visited two parishioners who were hospitalized with heart problems -- I call these folks, with some humor, but certainly not to trivialize -- "broken hearts." I've had a fair number of parishioners with broken hearts in the last few months, and it breaks my heart, as well. Some weather their problems relatively easily, be they bypasses, stents, heart catheterizations, pacemaker implants, defibrillator implants, or whatever. I see others grow more and more frail, recovering less and less quickly. My parish is predominantly a retirement parish -- they don't get any younger. People who were vital and active when I came here six years ago are, in some cases, quite frail, and several have died. My people face the possibility of death on a regular basis.
But both of these Ash Wednesday hospital visits, one in town and the other in Cookeville (off the Plateau and 30 miles west of here) were delightful and precious, true gifts. I can't tell details, of course, because of confidentiality -- but I will say that anointing people with oil and laying my hands on their heads for a prayer of healing is one of the greatest privileges I have as a priest. And as my heart has broken right open in these last few weeks, I'm also privileged to be with people in a way that is holier than I ever could have asked or imagined.
As for me, I considered my own Lenten practice with due sobriety and reverence. What I realized was that, rather than the typical season of quiet self-reflection, what I needed to do to honor God best, was to make this season a season of action, rather than inaction. You can't imagine the amount of time I spend in relative inactivity: sitting at my desk, meeting with people, reading, studying for church related things, or parked in front of the computer (like now!), the television, the Spider Solitaire game, or other mindless diversions. I have discerned several very special calls from God (in my own view, at least), and also particular practices that make me the best person and priest that I can be. I have tons of creative ideas that hardly ever come to fruition. So I examined (there's the self-examination!) exactly which of all these things and ideas that I felt most passionate about, which things I felt most strongly called to do, which things would restore holy balance to my life. I came up with six projects that I've dreamed of, written of, spoken of, and neglected to act upon. Perhaps I'll tell you exactly what those six items are at another time -- just now they seem a little embarrassing in their simplicity. I made a silly little chart, like we make for our children so they will do their chores. I painted it Lenten purple and bought silly and pretty litle stickers. I want to work on each of my six projects for at least 1/2 hour, at least 3 times a week. That means 18 stickers a week for each of the weeks of Lent. What fun! I bought glittery shamrocks and chickies and bunnies and flowers. I'm actually excited, in a silly sort of way. I don't want to completely trivialize this -- project boards and progress stickers really seem to work for me. They helped me do all the tasks I had to do for my spiritual direction program. Today I did 2 things, and so I now have 2 stickers on my chart (which is on a piece of poster board, 22x28 inches). Who knows? There might even be another sticker before I go to bed!
Today I also met with my spiritual director. I drive an hour each way to see her -- it's a good thing that I like to drive! These monthly meetings are a chance to itemize all the times during the month that I feel God has touched my life. By the end of our meeting today, we were laughing, because I found myself saying, "Oh, and just one more thing -- just this one more thing, I promise....!" There is great abundance in my life right now. God is touching me often. Sometimes it's the gift I receive from someone else. Sometimes it's a creative idea (or two, or two dozen). Sometimes it's a confluence of things that seem to all come at once, falling together, opening doors, making one or another path seem like it must be the true path for me. Like another trip to Italy this year. I haven't yet purchased my ticket, but I think it will happen. O Happy Day. O Happy Lent. I'm so grateful.