Lent

The Beginners' Guide to the Sound of Sap

Photo by Timothy King

Photo by Timothy King

If you listen, each bucket has its own special sound. First are the empty buckets and their muted ting of dripping sap falling straight to the galvanized steel bottom. Next is the dop that reverberates from the slightly sweet drop running off the spile to a thin layer of liquid below. But it is the soft, and all too rare and timeless plop that I wait for. That quiet plop (or sometimes plip) signals that over half of that the three-gallon bucket is full and the tap is giving in abundance.

There is a slight quickening of the heart when the bucket is heavy enough to need two hands to pull off the hook. Then an involuntary smile to hear the pitch of the shwoosh ascend as the smaller bucket presents it’s offering to the larger. But sometimes, before I touch the bucket at all, I stop and wait to hear what it has to say. Ting? Dop? Plip? Plop?

I look at the tree and then its neighbors. I strain to hear the rhythm of the buckets around me and wonder, what makes one tap run so well when others are nearly dry?

Our Fool’s Errand

Happy April Fool's Day, nito / Shutterstock.com

Happy April Fool's Day, nito / Shutterstock.com

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Paul says that “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

I can think of many times when I’ve felt foolish. Like forgetting someone’s name, or worse, calling them by the wrong name. Or when I read The Life of Pi and thought it was based on a true story because of the voice of the journalist.

The times when being foolish has really hurt, though, were when I placed trust in people only to be let down.

When the World Looks Back

Photo by Timothy King

Photo by Timothy King

Lent is a season of preparation. But the process of preparing for Easter does not need to be all negative commitments and focused on the things we don’t do.

One opportunity for developing new positive practices during Lent involves learning to see. The Gospels recount at least three different instances after the resurrection in which followers of Jesus were not able to recognize or “see” him: Mary at the tomb mistaking Jesus for the gardener, the road to Emmaus, and the delayed reaction when Jesus gave great fishing advice.

The truth of Easter is not always readily apparent. It requires the ability to see clearly. This means rubbing our eyes, clearing them of gunk, and focusing our vision.

Having recently shifted from spending most of my day in an office to spending almost all of it outside, I’ve been ruminating on what it might mean to practice seeing the non-human or natural world more clearly. Here are my initial reflections:

Have you ever been moved by a sunset? A star-filled canopy of the night sky? A canyon-filled horizon? A towering wooded cathedral?

What was the feeling? Gratitude for the beauty? Humility in the midst of grandeur? Inspired to greatness while experiencing greatness? Joy in celebration of it all?

Facing Up to Our Broken Covenants

Broken fence. Image courtesy mervas/shutterstock.com

Broken fence. Image courtesy mervas/shutterstock.com

Lent is our season of honesty. It is a time when we may break out of our illusions to face the reality of our life in preparation for Easter, a radical new beginning.

When, through this illusion-breaking homework, we connect with reality, we see that in our society the fabric of human community is almost totally broken. One glaring evidence of such brokenness is the current unrelieved tension between police and citizens in Ferguson, Missouri.

That tension is rooted in very old racism. It also reflects the deep and growing gap between “the ownership class” that employs the police and those who have no serious access to ownership who become victims of legalized violence.

This is one frontal manifestation of “the covenant that they broke,” as referred to in the Jeremiah text for this week: a refusal of neighborly solidarity that leads, with seeming certitude, to disastrous social consequences.

Of course the issue is not limited to Ferguson but is massively systemic in U.S. society. The brokenness consists not so much in the actual street violence perpetrated in that unequal contest. The brokenness is that such brutalizing force is accepted as conventional, necessary, and routine. It is a policy and a practice of violence acted out as “ordinary” that indicates a complete failure of neighborly imagination.

Lent is a time for honesty that may disrupt the illusion of well-being that is fostered by the advocates of indulgent privilege and strident exceptionalism that disregards the facts on the ground. Against such ideological self-sufficiency, the prophetic tradition speaks of the brokenness of the covenant that makes healthy life possible.

As long as there is denial and illusion, nothing genuinely new can happen. But when reality is faced — in this case the reality of a failed covenant between legal power and vulnerable citizens — new possibility becomes imaginable.

How a Week With Monks Changed My Views on Lent

Monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico. Photo by Timothy King

Monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico. Photo by Timothy King

At the heart of the Lenten season is an interesting paradox.

Lent is not observed in the making of Lenten commitments, but you can’t actually observe Lent without making a commitment.

Elsewhere at Sojourners, Jarrod McKenna reminds us that Lent is not ultimately about “giving up stuff” but about “the preparation of our hearts for what God has done in Christ.” Adam Ericksen encourages us that, “The worst thing we can do during Lent is to be tempted to earn God’s favor through self-denial.”

To both these points and posts I say, amen.

But as a lifelong Protestant who recently returned from spending time with Benedictine monks and nuns in New Mexico, I’ve come back with some evolving perspectives on fasting and other ascetic practices from the Catholic tradition. This isn’t in contradiction to either of these authors’ perspectives but more of a summation of my recent convictions as someone who has tended to skip the Lenten fasts altogether.

Here is what has struck me. I do not believe most Western Christians today are so focused on giving up their creature comforts for Lent that they are in danger of making their faith dependent upon physical fasting. Maybe I’m generalizing too much. So I’ll make this statement more personal:

My greatest struggle has not been that I have been so committed to “giving up stuff” for Lent that I have forgotten that God’s grace is unconditional. Rather, I have tended to avoid the discomfort of giving up my daily habits and physical dependencies by using a vague sense of “inner attitudes” of preparation as an excuse. As a result, I believe I’ve been missing some real opportunities to be receptive to God’s grace.

There are few reasons I believe this to be so important.

Lent: Remembering Those in Transit

Traveling on a long road. Image courtesy Ollyy/shutterstock.com

Traveling on a long road. Image courtesy Ollyy/shutterstock.com

All too often, Lent is about ‘my’ personal journey to the cross: 

I’m giving up…

My Lenten discipline is…

During Lent, I’m trying to….

During Lent, I’m fasting from...

But Psalm 107 will have none of that “me, my, and I.”

Even when we make attempts to live beyond this presumption of self, we still land all too often in our own backyard. Instead of giving up chocolate, we add compassion ... on my terms. Instead of detoxing from coffee, we add a spoonful of caring ... when we have the time. Instead of abstinence from alcohol, we try — as Pope Francis encourages — to “fast from indifference.”

As much as these invite us to reconsider our hearts, at the end of the day these are still “our” hearts. 

Psalm 107 nudges us from our backyards to imagine the hearts and lives of those in transit: the refugee, the wayfarer, the pilgrim, the immigrant, the sojourner, the alien, the wanderer — all of those en route to the cross from the four compass points of the north, the south, the east and the west.

The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that every 4 seconds someone is forced to flee. Whether along the border of Mexico, in Syria, the South Sudan, or the Ukraine — this statistic is staggering. Psalm 107 asks us this Lent to remember those in transit — in all their fear, their grief, their suffering — and to pray to the Lord to save them from their distress, and to trust in the Lord who will lead them from places of stress and violence toward a story of redemption and liberation.

This Lent, Psalm 107 begs us to remember those in transit. Whether it’s the 4.3 million “removable aliens” from America who wait a Texas judge’s decision after rising to Obama’s referendum of hope, or the Jews in Europe packing their bags toward a mass exodus to Jerusalem in fear of persecution, or whether it’s the sojourners at the Holding Institute in Laredo, Texas comforting an exhausted child, or Syrian Christians finding refuge for their dying mother or dehydrated newborn — these pilgrims from north and south and east and west must journey along with us this Lent.

A Call to Prayer: Make Violence Against Women History

Violence against women and girls is not only a “women’s issue,” but a human rights issue that affects all of us. We are indeed “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” as Dr. King said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.” The abundant life that Jesus offers is deeply connected to the well-being of others. (John 10:10)

For men and women to experience reconciliation and wholeness, we must prayerfully work together for gender justice. Download our free prayer calendar. It’s full of facts and prayer requests to help you put your faith into action to end violence against women.

Share it during Women’s History Month with your sisters and brothers, your sons and daughters. Pray through the calendar as part of your Lenten journey. Encourage your friends and faith community to raise their voices to make violence against women history.

Together, through prayer and action, we can imagine a new way forward for both women and men—for the flourishing of all God’s children.

Repenting Doesn’t Mean Feeling Like Crap About Yourself

Lent as the road toward love. Image courtesy Giordano Aita/shutterstock.com

Lent as the road toward love. Image courtesy Giordano Aita/shutterstock.com

We’ve all heard the sidewalk preachers and TV Evangelists quoting the Gospels, telling us, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!"

It’s a claim that is generally intended to strike fear and trembling in the hearts of many. We’re supposed to straighten up, do right, and atone for all of our heinous, sinful ways.

If you went to my kind of church growing up, there wasn’t a sermon that went by that you didn’t hear the pastor say something like, "The end could be today, tomorrow or next week. So you’d better beg for forgiveness, get right with the Lord, or risk getting ‘left behind.’"

The season of Lent is a time of reflection and repentance, yes. But we’ve come to misunderstand both what it means to repent, and what Jesus is talking about when he foretells of God’s coming Kingdom.

As for the latter, Jesus preached to some degree about the afterlife, yes. But his Kingdom-talk primarily was focused on us, on receiving and co-creating God’s Kingdom vision for ALL of us, here and now, in our very midst. So rather than talking about some hellfire apocalyptic end-times, he’s urging us to open our eyes, to see what’s right in front of us.

We can have what he, what God, long for us. To live in a world inspired and living into the Kingdom possibilities just there, nearly within our reach if we’ll only claim it and risk everything to fulfill it.

 

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