Lent

Waiting for God in the Dark Night of the Soul: On Peter Rollins' Atheism for Lent

Peter Rollins, via theexileinny / Flickr.
Peter Rollins, via theexileinny / Flickr.

I love Peter Rollins' honesty about his dark night of the soul.

He's popularized a term for the intellectual position accompanying the dark night of the soul: a/theism. I interpret Peter's thought as being in relation to an experience of God's absence. [Note: corrected this paragraph's content from "even coined" to "popularized. Turns out another author coined a/theism."]

I thought it was hilarious that Tony Jones challenged Peter to give up atheism for Lent on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast.

But I took it seriously when Micah Bales, one of my best friends, wrote a post challenging Peter Rollins' Atheism for Lent. You can't give up God because God is a felt presence. (Peter later responded to Micah. And Brian Merritt a piece about who Micah is.) Our conversations got me thinking about what I value about Peter Rollin's voice and what I might challenge about a/theism as I understand it. In order to talk about why a person believes or disbelieves in God, you have to talk about a personal spiritual journey.

A Lenten Commitment to Give Up the Fear of Failure

Desolate landscape, Phil MacD Photography / Shutterstock.com
Desolate landscape, Phil MacD Photography / Shutterstock.com

If one were to conduct a nationwide survey to learn the most common human fears, it is safe to conclude thatfailure would be near the top of the list. Due in part to the high value that North American society places upon success and achievement, we recognize through the twists and turns of daily life that everyone has – in some shape or form – firsthand experience of the fear of failure. We fret over falling short, we agonize about disappointment, and we even lose sleep from the potential shame of letting others down.

What if we, as a Lenten discipline, make a commitment to give up the fear of failure — for such fears are too often personally devastating and publicly debilitating if left ignored or unresolved?

The Art of Slowing Down (And The Wisdom of Louis Armstrong)

Sunset, Beth Van Trees / Shutterstock.com
Sunset, Beth Van Trees / Shutterstock.com

I’ve often heard that Lent is a season of slowing down. Of drawing closer to God, to others, to the wide open world around us. A time for spiritual reflection and inner examination. An opportunity to go a little deeper in trying to figure out Jesus. A time to pause. A time for simplicity.

This Lent, I decided to get back into biking to and from work (in addition to cold showers and placing a penny in the “Suck it Up or Shut Up” jar each time I catch myself complaining). 

When I moved across town in June, I said I’d bike once I found a good route, but I weaseled my way out of it for reasons such as having to bike through some sketchy areas by myself, something I was a bit fearful of.

Now a few days into it, I’ve found a route and a rhythm. I got off to a rough start the first day of Lent, biking home drenched by the down-pouring rain. Two cars didn’t see me, causing me slam on the brakes, skidding in the middle of an intersection. Cars passing by splashed water up against me like a small ocean wave. It was cold. It was dark. And I kept making wrong turns, making my time in the rain even longer. I had a “shake your fist at God” moment, muttering things that warranted pennies in the jar, and then managed to put my sopping wet hand back on the handlebar. I thought about the journey that women in Africa make to and from water wells and firewood piles on a daily basis, often risking the possibility of getting raped just to gather these essentials for their families. Surely, I didn’t have it so bad.

And most of us don’t.

'Memento Mori' and Living Today to the Fullest

Crucifixion image, Heather A. Craig / Shutterstock.com
Crucifixion image, Heather A. Craig / Shutterstock.com

I awoke in the middle of the night last evening and walked the house in the dark. Kenneth and Caitlin were still stirring, as the older children sometimes do on the weekend. As I climbed the stairs back to our room I felt a wave of gratitude.

Here we are all under one roof for who knows how much longer, yet such a privilege to still be together even as four of seven attend college and work hard and make us proud as they figure out what's next.

I got back into bed and Debbie put her arm around me in her sleep. I said "I love you," and she whispered, half-asleep "I love you, too," and for that moment all was well, and I had a sense that all would be well in the future, come what may.

As I lay there in the stillness, an encounter from five years ago came back to me in vivid color. I had just preached the funeral of a man taken unexpectedly following a routine surgery. I was at the wake afterward and sat next to an unassuming man in his mid-50s whose suit was impeccable and whose polite manners suggested a quiet grace and a bearing of humility in his obvious accomplishments, but also a bit of world-weariness.

40 Ways to Live Simply for 40 Days of Lent

Leaf detail,  alexskopje / Shutterstock.com
Leaf detail, alexskopje / Shutterstock.com

Use this Lenten season as a time to grow closer to God and simplify your life. Try a new suggestion from this list each day and experience the stronger relationships and calmer pace of an (almost) Amish lifestyle!

1. Start a giveaway box and add at least three items of clothes you have not worn in the last year.

2. Is there a form of technology that is ruling you like a master rather than serving you like a tool?  Unplug for 24 hours and rediscover the peace that passes all understanding.

 

The Only Way Out is Through (A Lenten Reflection)

Dark forest path, andreiuc88 / Shutterstock.com
Dark forest path, andreiuc88 / Shutterstock.com

A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!

-Joel 2:2

Who in their right mind looks forward to Lent? Seven weeks of preparation to lead up to Good Friday hardly seems like an enjoyable way to spend our time.

Why not work on those New Year’s resolutions that have already been slipping instead? How about some more quality time with the family? What good, after all, can come from dwelling on darkness and death for more than forty days?

How about we all just agree to skip Lent this year and just get back together on Easter, okay?

Ashes and Hope

Tree in a field, verevkin / Shutterstock.com
Tree in a field, verevkin / Shutterstock.com

Lent is a time when we try to identify with our own weakness, so since we are about to start the Church’s penitent season, it was shocking to read Virgilio Elizondo’s account of how a people generally considered weak on the geopolitical stage – poor Mexicans and Chicanos – do not treat Ash Wednesday as a day of penitence at all.

“For the masses of the people, it has little to do with the beginning of Lent. Lent as a season of self-sacrifice is not really of special interest to the people: the entire year is a time of suffering and abnegation. On Ash Wednesday Mexican-Americans renew their cultic communion with mother earth. For them the earth has always been sacred and they retain a fundamental identity with it. The earth supports and regenerates life; itis life.”

What a beautiful and unexpected connection!

A Pledge of Nonviolence

A Pledge of Nonviolence

1. As you prepare to march, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus.

2. Remember the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation—not victory.

3. Walk and talk in the manner of love; for God is love.

4. Pray daily to be used by God that all men and women might be free.

5. Sacrifice personal wishes that all might be free.

6. Observe with friend and foes the ordinary rules of courtesy.

7. Perform regular service for others and the world.

8. Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, and heart.

9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

10. Follow the directions of the movement leaders and of the captains on demonstrations.

Image: Hands clasped, skydie / Shutterstock.com

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The Scales of Rejoicing

"THIS IS THE LORD'S DOING; it is marvelous in our eyes. On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice in and be glad in it." We will be singing these words from Psalm 118 on Easter Sunday, and they pinpoint a critical issue in our religious witness. Do we have the courage to have God be the subject of sentences, or is God usually the object of our reflections? There is a difference. Do we make ourselves really the subject of our sentences, so that religion is about our doings and ideas and needs? The scriptures insistently talk about what God did and is doing and will do in Christ, the crucified and risen one. Our role is to rejoice in the way God acts upon us, with us, around us, behind us, above us, ahead of us, through us.

Praise is the litmus test. If God is experienced as the one who is acting, the impulse to praise is inevitable. This may help us understand the importance of the psalms in our lectionary. They aren't mere supplementary devotions. As supreme words of praise, they test the authenticity of our reactions to the good news. They test and they can train. The psalter is the church's manual to help practice the "scales of rejoicing," to borrow a phrase from W.H. Auden's "Christmas Oratorio." A phrase on Auden's tombstone comes back to me: "In the prison of his days / Teach the free man how to praise." The psalms come to life only where this teaching is taken seriously.

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader. His newest book is Go in Peace: The Art of Hearing Confessions, with Julia Gatta.

[ March 3 ]
Singled Out for God's Punishment
Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

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Faith to the Utmost

THE NAME OF Oswald Chambers is well known to millions of Christians for a collection of notes gathered by his wife from his sermons and published as a devotional reader in 1927, 10 years after his death, under the title My Utmost for His Highest.

Like many Christians, I first read this devotional guide while still in college and harbored the suspicion that this man must have been a somber if not puritanical pillar of the faith. The gaunt, almost cadaverous portrait of him included in many editions of his most famous work contributed much to these impressions of mine. It turns out, though, that I did not know the human being who was Oswald Chambers.

I recently stumbled upon a crumbling book in the library stacks of a local university that greatly altered my perceptions of him. It was an out-of-print collection of tributes by those who knew him best, along with his personal diaries from his travels abroad as an itinerant preacher and as a YMCA chaplain in World War I until his sudden death from complications following an emergency appendectomy at the age of 43. As I read through these documents, I found myself strongly attracted to Chambers as a person and captivated by his vision of what it means to be a believer in the modern world.

AS A STUDENT of art at the University of Edinburgh, Chambers was not known among his peers for his religious devotion, which he had received from devout Scottish Baptist parents. He was better known, rather, for his outgoing personality and his knowledge and love of poetry, art, and music. He was gifted not only with a keen aesthetic sensitivity and outgoing temperament, but also with a rigorous mind. After completing his studies he became a tutor at Dunoon College in Scotland in 1898, where he taught logic, moral philosophy, and psychology for several years.

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