Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pre-Lent

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. The Road to Easter officially begins, although I always include Transfiguration Sunday in that as well. I think that view is steeped in tradition somehow, but I'm currently too lazy to look it up. I use the reasoning that when most of us in the congregation next see each other, the season will already be four days old, so my sermon usually has an anticipatory flavor to it. Which it did.

The season is shaping up to be a good one activity-wise. We of course will gather tomorrow evening for worship including imposition of ashes. We will gather on subsequent Wednesday evenings for soup and discussions about the church calendar, a subject my church nerd self loves to think about and plan accordingly. My hope is that we have some good conversation about how it helps us live out the Christian story throughout the year. We'll see. Honestly, attendance the past year or two has been a little discouraging. I wonder if it's time for a different format.

As far as taking anything on, giving something up, observing any kind of discipline at all...I dunno. My attempts the past few years have not gone well. My thought is that I've already got this covered through my current journey through the Ignatian Exercises. On top of that, I may go very basic and give something up. I could do with less snack food or something, I'm sure.

There is something that I've always treasured about Lent, although the particular thing that I treasure evolves and changes from year to year. In my college years, it was the spiritual and intellectual challenge of exploration, self-evaluation, and discipline. In my seminary years it was the diversity of experiences that I had in different ministry contexts from one year to the next, and corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day made by a good friend and classmate. In more recent years, it's been the slowly lightening and warming spring days and the journey that the congregation and I take together, similar but different every time. It's the expectancy of these 40 days, the special opportunities that we share in worship and fellowship and faith formation. It's less my own discipline and more what we do as a community.

Having said goodbye to three parishioners within the past month, I've been thinking a lot about that lately. The realization that I value what we do in community, how people have been encouraging each other and looking out for each other and moving through these seasons that call attention to the sacred infused with the everyday has been at the forefront of my mind since the beginning of the year. It's what I've cherished since beginning full-time pastoral ministry, but have understood in a deeper way as of late.

Maybe that in itself is worth reflecting on this year. As I continue to discover what it means to pastor a church, what it means to get beyond the basic management stuff into those more dangerous uncharted places where relationships form and you get to know personalities and tendencies and begin to see it all differently, I see seasons and activities like Lent differently. So I think I'll ponder that over the next 40 days, and likely long beyond that.

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