A Pastor's Ponderings and Such

Archive for March, 2022

Being Yourself

This is my reflection for Sunday Service of March 27, 2022

Biblical Witness: The Gospel Of John 1:19 — 23
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”

Contemporary Witness: Our Native Daughters – “I Knew I Could Fly” Behind The Scenes Documentary

Our Native Daughters’ Songs Of Our Native Daughters comes out Feb. 22 via Smithsonian Folkways.

Reflection: “Being Yourself”

Today our Lenten grief question is, “What are your church griefs about the pandemic?” The question is centered around the idea of the pandemic, but I want to acknowledge something first. There are a lot of people with church grief. I like to quote our own Rev. Jasmine Quinerly, our Association Minister, who says, “There’s no hurt like church hurt.”

When the church as an institution is more concerned with its institutional status or maintaining human imposed rules or requirements than they are with seeing, hearing, and caring for people individually and communally, the hurt caused to people becomes collateral damage for the sake of religion. Many of us have experienced that, myself included. It takes a lot to heal from such hurt because it’s a betrayal of what love is supposed to be. The church is meant to be an expression of love that comes from God through people. Too often – and whenever it happens it’s too often – the church is a place of spiritual judgment and moral certitude based on fears. The idea that what we understand about the spiritual realm might be inaccurate puts us in fear of punishment or hell. When I say “we” I am talking universally and generally – not speaking of any one of us specifically.

One of my goals as a spiritual leader and guide is to dispel this notion of fear – whether it’s a fear of being spiritually wrong, of punishment on this earth, or of some eternal torment like hell. When people are monitored and regulated to fit into boxes because the boxes make the those in power or in the majority feel safe, then those who don’t actually fit in the boxes are marginalized, bullied, and subjected to violence in all their spheres of being – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Plymouth is meant to be a sanctuary from that violence and from the expectations to fit into boxes. This is a place where you can do your work of deconstructing your internal narrative based on outside voices and rebuild yourself through the Holy Love you experience for yourself.

There is nothing more sacred and holy than discovering who you as a creation of Holy Love, made in the image of that love. For many of us, due to the pandemic, we lost personal contact with each other in our church setting. Community connection is one way for us to be inspired to continue the work of loving ourselves and finding ourselves. Being in isolation put us at risk of not being supported in our continued transformation and growth.

Being yourself … encountering yourself … experiencing yourself … these are not goals unto themselves. When we delve into understanding ourselves in a loving way we enter community differently. Our approach to life is more secure and outward focused. Sometimes we have to turn inward for a time to heal and become strong. But in the long run, our compassion toward ourselves helps us to deepen our understanding of others; to accept and celebrate all people – families and folks of all kinds. This is the community we are continually unfolding here at Plymouth.

What does it take to be yourself? To love yourself? How do you go about it, especially when there are voices, policies, legislations, and doctrines which restrict and punish those outside what is considered the norm? There is not easy answer. All I can offer is the encouragement to continue finding your authentic self in the image of Holy Love and the assurance that you are valuable and loved just for being you.

In the video of Our Native Daughters, the question is asked, what might Etta Baker had become if she had been allowed to be fully herself when she was younger? The women in Our Native Daughters acknowledge the shoulders they stand on which allow them to be independent, to travel, and play their music. The brilliance of Etta Baker lay dormant – hidden – for decades before she found the freedom to spread her wings. When she did, we all benefitted. It seems to me that she knew who she was and the gift she had been given. What a loss that she had to bide her time until she could let loose with her full self. What a blessing to all of us that she finally was able to. Our Native Daughters give credit to her perseverance and unfolding. They credit their own success to Etta Baker and people like her.

Right now, there are people being shoved back into the closet because of governmental bullying tactics. Some trans kids are afraid for their parents who want to support them, because their parents are being threatened with jail. Medical and educational providers are being threatened too. According to news sources, there have been about 240 anti-LGBTQ bills filed so far in the U.S. this year. According to Equality Texas, “All 30+ anti-LGBTQ+ bills filed this session were officially dead, including 13 direct attacks on transgender youth.” Another bit of good news is that there has been a partial block from the Texas Court of Gov. Abbott’s anti-trans directive to investigate families. However, all these bullying tactics have unleashed misunderstandings about what is legal and what isn’t, as well as given permission for the bullying of trans kids, their families, and honestly anyone who is lgbta+. Our national conversation influences the conversations in our neighborhoods, our families, and our churches.

At the same time, the conversations we have in our churches can influence our national conversation. What we do here, what we stand for, makes a difference.

In our Gospel story today, John the Baptist is being questioned by the religious leaders. They asked him, “Who are you? What do you say about yourself?” His answer? I am a voice crying out in the wilderness. He denied being the one come to save anyone. He refused the title of Elijah or prophet. All he embraced was being a voice crying out the directive to make a bee-line to God. He didn’t want anyone to feel like they had to go through him to get to The Divine. He also didn’t want people to feel compelled to go through a human being or institution in order to connect with The Presence of Love. He was just a voice calling out directions to the most direct route to God.

I imagine he felt pressure to call himself either more or less than he felt he was. They wanted him to say more so that they could put him in a box of their liking. He didn’t go for it. He refused. John knew he was taking a risk by not collaborating with the bullies. He had prepared himself all his life to live out his calling as The Voice.

I would love to be able to say that we all need to push against the bullies and live fully our authentic lives. Here’s the thing tho, it continues to be a risk. For some, it’s more of a risk than others. I will say this, you need to take the risks that you can take, and to stay safe in ways that you need to stay safe.

This week we’ve witnessed Supreme Court Nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson being raked over the coals through questioning in her confirmation hearing. If confirmed, Jackson will be the first black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. I’m praying like crazy for her strength and peace of mind in the face of idiocy and prejudice as she goes through this process. No one should have to deal with what she is going through. She is up to the task and I believe we need to stand behind her.

I also believe we have to stand behind the families of trans-kids, and their care providers, as they maneuver through the prejudice and ignorance they are dealing with. The risks they are taking have become higher than they were before.

For each of us, there has to be a place where we can be ourselves. A place where it isn’t risky and we can bloom. This community, Plymouth, is a place where we practice loving ourselves and each other. A place where we can change our minds about our own direction and give each other grace and room. This is what it means to be a church. We are a community of faith journeying together toward what love calls us to be, which includes being our deepest and richest version of ourselves that we discover ourselves to be. The more we are able to be ourselves here, the more we will be able to be ourselves out there in the world. As we do, we will grow in our strength to support and advocate for others to fully bloom to be their most authentic God-created self. That’s a ministry we can be proud of. One that isn’t based on preserving the institution, but in preserving human dignity, which is one of the most holy and sacred ministries I can think of.

Lenten Catharsis

Biblical Witness Genesis 45:25 – 46:5

The sons of Israel went up out of Egypt after meeting with Joseph and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They told him, “Joseph is still alive! He is even ruler over all the land of Egypt.” Jacob was stunned; he could not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph that he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Jacob, who is also known as Israel, said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I must go and see him before I die.”

When Israel set out on his journey with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again; and Joseph’s own hand shall close your eyes.”

Then Jacob set out from Beer-sheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him.

Contemporary Witness “Daughter Of The East” by Benazir Bhutto; Preface (excerpt)

More than a million of my countrymen came out to greet me when I returned to Pakistan from two years of exile in April 1986, catapulting me  into the glare of international publicity. Suddenly I received several offers to write not my father’s story, but my own. I hesitated. It was one matter to write about my father, who had become the democratically elected prime minister of Pakistan and had lasting achievements to his name, and quite another to write about myself, whose most important political battles were still to be fought. It seemed presumptuous. I thought autobiographies were written in the autumn of one’s life, looking back.

A friend’s chance remark changed my mind. “What is not recorded is not remembered,” she told me. I saw her point. Like many in Pakistan, I had experienced the dark years of Martial Law. Unlike many, I had the opportunity to put those experiences on record. It is important that the world remember the repression we in Pakistan had to bear following General Zia’s coup d’etat.

Writing the book has been difficult. It has meant reliving the pain of the past. But it has also been cathartic, forcing me for the first time to come to terms with memories I had been trying to escape. This is my story, events as I saw them, felt them, reacted to them.

Reflection

Let me begin by telling you a little about Benazir Bhutto.

She was the first democratically elected female to rule any muslim country. According to the website, benazirbhutto.com, she was also one of the most influential leaders of south asia. She was born in Karachi, Pakistan and at age 16 she left her homeland to study at Harvard’s Radcliffe College. After completing her undergraduate degree at Radcliffe she studied at England’s Oxford University, where she was awarded a second degree in 1977.

Only two years into her first term as Prime Minister, President Khan dismissed Bhutto from office. In 1993 she was re-elected and brought electricity to the countryside and built schools all over the country. In 1996 President Leghari of Pakistan dismissed Bhutto from office. Her husband was imprisoned. For nine years, she and her children lived in exile in London. 

In the autumn of 2007, in the face of death threats from radical Islamists, and the hostility of the government, she returned to her native country. Within hours of her arrival, her motorcade was attacked by a suicide bomber. She survived this first assassination attempt, although more than 100 bystanders died in the attack. Weeks later, after one of her campaign rallies, a gunman fired at her car before detonating a bomb, killing himself and more than 20 bystanders. Bhutto was rushed to the hospital, but soon succumbed to injuries suffered in the attack.

In her book, “Daughter Of The East,” amoung many other things, she talks about the pain of her father’s execution, as well as the deaths of her brothers. In the preface, she mentions the catharsis that happened for her as she faced the memories she had been trying to escape.

I paired this with the story of Jacob, also known as Israel, finding out that his son, Joseph was alive. For 20 years Jacob thought that Joseph was dead because his other sons lied to him, having sold Joseph to Midianite traders. Jacob refused to be comforted by his sons and daughters saying, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” For at least 20 years he held this grief in his heart and in his body. A pain so deep that when he was confronted by the story that Joseph was alive, at first he could not believe them. But then it seems like he was enthusiastic about seeing Joseph. He says, “My son Joseph is still alive. I must go and see him before I die.” But next in the story we hear God comforting him and encouraging him by saying, “Jacob, Jacob. Here I am. I am God … do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, I will go down with you. … Joseph’s own hand shall close your eyes.”

Maybe he was afraid that he would die on the way, before getting to see his son. He wanted the healing that would come with being in the presence of Joseph. God assured him he would have that.

Today in our Lenten Ritual we are answering the question, “What are your family griefs about the pandemic?” Family can mean so many different things to people. Grief comes in different ways and for various reasons. A lot of the grief that I have heard, as well as felt, over the years, is the grief of being disconnected. Not being able to gather together with those we love out of concern for making each other sick is a deep grief we carry in our bones. This combines with the risk that something might happen to one of our loved ones, or to us, and we might never see them again. The question that came up over and over was, do we risk getting together … or do we risk not getting together? There is no good answer to these questions. Only one kind of heart-ache or another.

Each of us have had difference experiences – had different losses – different kinds of reunions which were joyous and relieving. We might want to put it all behind us. Forget about it and move forward. One way to really move forward into the future, with those losses as well as the gains, is to face it all. Doing this ritually helps us to mark the time, the place, the sensations, the sights and smells, what we heard, and how we felt.

Benazir Bhutto did this through the ritual work of writing her book. Writing has an interesting ritual all its own which is unique to each writer. I don’t know what her process was, but it provided her a way to set her thoughts into words, sharing her story with us.

These little pieces of paper that we are writing on – or drawing on – might not seem like something very significant. They can be though. When we meditate, when we face whatever we’ve been avoiding because it’s hard or uncomfortable or maybe downright awful, when we face it, it is an opportunity for us to feel our own strength. In this moment we embrace it all, loving ourselves. Comforting ourselves and each other by this shared experience. 

Catharsis is the release and relief from strong or repressed emotions by bringing them to consciousness and affording them expression. These little pieces of paper are the vehicle of that expression. What you write and the act of shredding is the release. Hopefully there will be relief that comes from this, especially at the end when we take these shreds and revive them, remaking them.

What I love about rituals is that they are tangible memories I can go back to, reminding myself in hard times of the moment I faced what I needed to, and then released it to the best of my ability. I can return to the sights and smells and sounds, the tug of the shredder taking the paper, the feeling of all of us in the room.

In times of intense memory related to grief we might forget that we are more than our grief. Benazir Bhutto reminds us that the stories we tell, whether we tell them publicly or on a private piece of paper, free us from being captive to the past. 

The story of Jacob reminds us that when we move forward, our faith moves with us. It might even be our faith itself that helps us move. I hold on to the notion that our Holy Love accompanies us in all our travels – from the ones we make geographically to the ones we make emotionally.

Today, we travel together. Our thoughts and our feelings join in the spirit. Our bodies may quiver, wondering, like Jacob, if we can make the journey. May we feel the assurance from our Divine Beloved that we are accompanied and that at the end of the journey each of us, individually and as a community, will experience freedom and release.

Sometimes It’s Personal

Biblical Witness The Gospel Of Mark 3:19b – 30

Jesus went home and the crowd came together again, so that he and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” Jesus called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Contemporary Witness Frida Kahlo quote

“I wish I could do whatever I liked behind the curtain of “madness”. Then: I’d arrange flowers, all day long, I’d paint; pain, love and tenderness, I would laugh as much as I feel like at the stupidity of others, and they would all say: “Poor thing, she’s crazy!” (Above all I would laugh at my own stupidity.) I would build my world which while I lived, would be in agreement with all the worlds. The day, or the hour, or the minute that I lived would be mine and everyone else’s – my madness would not be an escape from “reality”.”

Reflection “Sometimes It’s Personal”

Today we’re beginning our Lenten spiritual practice of grief and lament by using a ritual of writing the answer to a question about our grief and lament on a piece of paper and then shredding it. Afterward we will be making new paper out of the old paper. This week’s question is, “What are your personal griefs about the pandemic?”

This question got me thinking about what personal grief does within us. How it changes us and how we are perceived. March is also Womens’ History Month, which we celebrate each year. 

Today we heard a quote from Frida Kahlo. She is best known for her art and for her relationship with the artist Diego Rivera. Her personal life, though, had a lot more in it. She had serious medical issues. She had polio at age 6, which she blamed for her right leg’s lifelong problems. Later in life she was diagnosed as having had spina bifida from birth. There was the terrible bus accident. She lived with pain all her life. Her pain and grief were expressed in her paintings, and also in how she told her story about her life. This wasn’t all she expressed. She celebrated life – sometimes wildly, sometimes in the daily beauty that surrounded her. She was as fully complex as any of us.

In the quote we read she says that she wishes she could do whatever she liked behind the curtain of “madness”. She says, “The day, or the hour, or the minute that I lived would be mine and everyone else’s – my madness would not be an escape from “reality”.”

This conjures in my mind how frequently we have to make excuses for our behaviours or our mindset if they don’t jive with the status quo. I remember in one of my jobs as a young person, I was “excused” for my apparently outlandish understanding of the world because I was a theatre major. Once they found out that the undergraduate degree that I was pursuing was theatre, I was given a pass for being eccentric. I wasn’t trying to be particularly eccentric. I’m not exactly sure what they were going on about. But, I was relieved that they gave me a pass for my apparently aberrant behaviour. I was, after all, a theatre major.

Under the cloak of madness, Frida feels she could find that kind of pass to be completely herself, unfiltered. She could fully express her pain, her love, her tenderness, and her a laughter. Everyone would nod their heads knowingly and remind each other that she was to be excused because, “Poor thing, she’s crazy!”

In our reading in Mark we hear the account of Jesus being accused of losing his mind. His family wanted to restrain him. Some people thought he had lost touch with reality. Which people? The ones he was healing and teaching? Probably not them so much. He was extremely sought after by the crowds, so much so in this story that he and his disciples couldn’t even sit down to eat in his house because there were so many people there wanting to hear him speak and to perform wonders. It was the religious elite who wanted others to think he had lost touch with reality. They accused him of all kinds of things to sway the crowds against him. They got to his family with this message, who were probably already concerned.

At the end of this telling, there is the part about the unforgivable sin. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” What this means has been debated and preached about for generations. It seems to me that it has a lot to do with those who were spreading propaganda against him and the good works he was doing; claiming that his works were evil. Here he is, doing all he can to relieve suffering and to draw people to God, and those who feel like their power is going to slip away from them because of it indict him as being evil. They cause others to wonder if he is in his right mind, and those who think he isn’t seek to control him because they care about him.

Was he mad? Had he lost touch? Or, had he gotten so in touch with reality that his form of expression surpassed understanding to those who couldn’t keep up? This is also my wondering about Frida Kahlo. Was she so in touch with a depth of reality through experiences of pain, love, grief, and tenderness that it was only under the guise of madness that she thought she could express herself?

How about us? After communion we’re going to be doing our ritual. I want us all to answer the question, “What are your personal griefs about the pandemic?” This is not an easy spiritual practice – to look at our griefs and to allow ourselves to lament. But, Lent is not the season to take things easy. It is a good time to reflect on what we might normally set aside for another time …for later. 

Grief is one of those emotions and experiences that feel like we are losing control. Expressing grief through lament, especially when it’s done through deep self reflection, can feel like living in all the pain at once and might seem unbearable. It might be easy to complain about problems and situations, but to lament means allowing your more vulnerable side to show. 

There is a tendency to think that if we grieve we make things worse. And while that might be the case if all we do is meditate on what is negative, active grief helps us to move through the experience rather than bottle it up. Still, it’s hard. It takes work. Internal work. Energy. And in the midst of it, you might feel like you are losing touch with reality. Especially with the personal stuff. 

In the coming weeks we will be asking the question about family grief, work grief, and church grief. Those we might be able to hold out a little farther from us. There might be a few more objective standards to consider with family, work, and church. But personal grief is, well, personal. 

Maybe it’s okay if we lose touch with reality temporarily so that we can get in touch with a deeper more foundational reality. One that is hard to express because it’s beyond words. Maybe you’ll want to draw a picture on your paper. Or maybe stream of conscious words. Or maybe just colours and shapes. So long as it can be shredded in the paper shredder … you do what expresses you the best you can, knowing that you are touching the edges in trying to distill your personal experience into language or shape or colour. What you put on the paper is representative of what you are reflecting on. It isn’t an exactness of your feelings.

Maybe that’s why it can feel like madness. We know we can’t really demonstrate our feelings. We can uncover what we can with the symbols we have like language, art, dance, story-telling, and such. What we convey we then have to trust to someone to interpret. And no one interprets it exactly the way we feel it. Maybe we wonder if even God can get it. Can our Holy Love hear our story and honour it without diminishing it?

That is my hope and prayer. It is part of the foundation of my faith that our Divine Beloved can do for us what we can only touch the edges of for each other. This might be why they thought Jesus had lost touch with reality – because he was able take in to himself, into his soul, the essence of another’s grief and pain. He could bring it into himself and not be destroyed. What a powerful and unrelatable gift.

This Lent we’re going to see how far we can go in trusting Holy Love with the essence of who we are. Holy Love will tether us to the reality we need to be in. Allow yourself the freedom to build your world in agreement with all the worlds, as Frida talked about. All the worlds being vast and complex and able to handle the essence of you and the truth of your experience. Know that it’s the Holy Spirit which leads you, supports you, and loves you in the midst of this spiritual practice. This same Spirit Of Love will help you and us heal from the fragmenting that happens when grief and pain are left to move around inside of us without direction or guidance. It is holy, good, and loving to ourselves to take stock of what is going on personally with us.

Naming What Is

This is my Ash Wednesday reflection from March 2, 2022

1st Biblical Witness Ecclesiastes 2:9 – 25

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. 

So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly; for what can the one do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. Then I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness. Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them. 

Then I said to myself, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?” And I said to myself that this also is vanity. For there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How can the wise die just like fools? So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me — and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? 

Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. 

This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from God who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

2nd Biblical Witness The Gospel Of Luke 22:35 – 38

Jesus said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” The disciples said, “No, not a thing.” Jesus said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”

Reflection “Naming What Is”

I don’t want to set up Lent as a time when we suck the fun out of life entirely. I do want to set it up as a time when we don’t run away to avoid the hard stuff of life. Let me balance that out by saying, I love having fun. Enjoying life is important. It’s a form of resistance and honestly, it is just plain good stuff. When we don’t allow ourselves to have joy or to have fun out of guilt because there are so many people suffering – which there are so many people suffering – but if we strip ourselves of the good of life, it also strips us of our strength to do advocacy, to make meaningful connections, and even to love at a core level. 

So, what am I saying? Basically, that life isn’t just one thing. The writer of Ecclesiastes is sharing their revelation that life isn’t fair. Any one of us could have probably told them that, but this person, presumably a king in Israel, has a ton of privilege and didn’t have to think about too many difficult everyday things. And you’ll notice that the majority of their angst is based on the idea that all their hard work might end up going to someone they consider less than themselves.

They end up realizing that focusing on all this mental and emotional rumination is a waste of time and the best thing to do is live life and enjoy as much of it as you can. Taking all that with the grain of salt that they are coming from a place of privilege – of power and money – what can we get out of this?

For me, the whole of Ecclesiastes reminds me that there is no perfect. I can lay down my lofty expectations of myself and others which might disappoint me … or make me anxious or short-tempered. Or depressed. There is no perfect. All of us, in our humanity, are susceptible to time and chance (which is also talked about in Ecclesiastes). We can’t control life. We’ve learned that especially so in the last couple years.

Not only that though, but people are also uncontrollable. Nature is uncontrollable. We can do what we have in our hands to do. We have limits. Those limits are actually filled with grace and mercy. Without them, we might dry up. Or even worse, we might try to do everything ourselves and not let anyone else contribute.

This is not a call to give up doing what you can, but to do what you can the best that you can and then, know that you’ve done it. Know that you have fought for justice. Know that you have extended mercy. Know that you have engaged in your community  the best way you could. 

Lent is a time to reflect on all that we’ve done; what we’re disappointed in and what we rejoice in. To see where we’ve failed. To accept where we’ve succeeded. During this 40 day meditation we experience our finitude – in other words, the way we are finite in nature. We have beginnings and endings. Season by season. Year by year. Life by life.

How then should one practice this Lenten Journey? What should you “give up?” Jesus had a conversation with his disciples about this in the Gospel of Luke. He reminds them that once he sent them out to proclaim the good news and told them to bring nothing with them other than what was on their backs. Nothing extra. Give it all up. He asks them – when I asked you to do that, what did you experience? Did you lack anything? They all agree that it went well. If I was a disciple, at this point I would expect Jesus to say – well, we’re doing it again! Get ready by not getting ready because you’re just going to go out there with nothing. Give it all up again. You’ll be okay.

But he doesn’t. He tells them that this time, it’s different. Now they have to be prepared. They’re gonna need some stuff. Their context had changed. Their situation was different. They needed to respond differently. 

Take a moment and think about your context. Your situation. What’s different? What’s the same? It might be that the comfort of a well-known Lent is exactly what you need because everything else is topsy-turvey. Or maybe you need to approach Lent differently this year. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes named their concerns. Their sorrows. It seems like they spiraled down pretty far into despair before coming to terms with the realities that life has twists and turns that you can’t avoid and can’t control. And that at the same time, life holds goodness and possibilities.

Mardis Gras is over. Fat Tuesday has come and gone. Now we reflect. It’s time for us to name what is in our lives. Our concerns. Our goals. In what ways can we rest and feel satisfied that we have done our best? Where do we need to put more energy? In what ways might we have failed? Not to beat ourselves up about it but to name it and to give ourselves the opportunity to do better.

Name what’s going on in your life. Name it inside yourself, or if you want to, find someone to name it with. You are welcome to come to me if you want a listening partner or a conversation partner. 

This is the beginning of our Lenten Journey. Toward the end of it we experience Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. But the goal … the goal is Easter. We aren’t rushing to Easter, to the resurrection. But let’s keep in mind that the goal is life. The goal is re-creation out of this period of meditation. How do you want to journey toward a renewed sense of self, sloughing off the old and the tired? Replacing the worn out with something different and more pliable. Don’t be afraid to name what you need to name so you know what direction you want to go.

Let these notions be the guide to your spiritual practice this Lent.