Distractions and Renewal

Stuff gets in the way. Stuff gets in the way of life happening the way it is supposed to. We get distracted, we lose focus, and before we know it, our lives have veered from where we thought they were supposed to go.

Maybe that’s where Lent comes in. As a season, it asks us to let go of some of those distractions. To let go of those things that keep us from living life as we were meant to live it. When people pick a trivial thing, even a happy thing, to give up for Lent, I think maybe it misses the mark.

I like the notion of Lent as a time for renewal and refocusing. Last week at Christ Church Easton, the Gospel reading was Mark’s account of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. Interim pastor Jerrett Hansen, reflecting on this mountaintop experience, asked, “How are we connected to the story?”

He posited we need to live into the mystery of the story, the mystery of God and Christ, rather than try to intellectually analyze it.

“Jesus and God are to be experienced. We need to be open to these experiences… Experiencing God is essential to our journey.”

I think that is what life’s distractions prevent us from doing. They get in the way of our wonder; they get in the way of loving more fully; they get in the way of opening ourselves to possibilities and to each other. Distractions keep us from knowing ourselves more fully and from knowing God more fully.

Maybe instead of giving something up just to give something up, for Lent we can think about getting ourselves into spiritual shape. Building better habits to peel back the distractions. Jerrett introduced a notion that a friend of his, Michael Foss, spelled out as marks of discipleship:

1. Pray daily
2. Worship weekly
3. Read the Bible daily
4. Build spiritual friendships
5. Serve in the community
6. Be generous in all things

We’ll be spending time over the next weeks working through what some of those look like and what they mean. If you are up for it, maybe think of Lent as time to take on a discipline, or a devotional habit, to help get into shape a bit.

We all need help in our lives in some form or fashion. We can all be better people, for ourselves, our family, our friends, our community, our world.

I’m stoked to be helping lead groups this Lent and spring, which will be looking at Mark’s Gospel; which will be looking at how and why to pray and read the Bible. And the Alpha Course.

I love Mother Teresa’s notion that through prayer God guides us to do the things that need to be done in the world, that “prayer changes us and we change things.”

God invites us to come as we are, just as we are. But He also knows we are capable of being so much more. We can be better. We can do better. Maybe we can start now.

I’ll leave with a final though from Jerrett’s sermon this past Saturrday:

“God loves you the way you are, but He knows how much more you can be.”

Seasons, Journeys, Treasure

I dig the seasons changing. There is something to that elemental shift that stirs my soul. These warm days of walking home for lunch and feeling the sun on my face; longboarding to work; thinking about sunrise or sunset paddleboarding on the horizon; putting tomatoes in and mulching gardens; seeing the return of green grass. I’m looking forward.

This is maybe the first time I have fully paid attention to the changing seasons of the church: from Advent to Christmas, from Epiphany now into Lent, looking to the Passion and Easter. Another new thing for me is leading a small group as we journey through Lent.

At the Ash Wednesday service last evening at Christ Church Easton, Father Bill Ortt gave out some information on what Lent is all about. Among other things, I like getting into the word itself:

The word Lent is derived from the old English word “lente” meaning “Springtime” or “lencten” referring to the lengthening of the daylight hours. In the agricultural sense, it is a time when fields are prepared to receive the seeds for the crops to be planted. On a spiritual basis, we might look at it the same way. There is much work to do to break the ground compacted by the weight of the winter period of “death” and there are weeds and obstacles to remove. And yet there is good to be found in the preparations, because it is preparation for new life. In other words, this is more than a good thing.

Lent is a preparation. Lent is also a journey. Lent is a journey over a period of time, 40 days, and it is also a journey over the terrain of the soul.

This morning, thinking about journeys, I went back to a book I pick up a lot for those kind of travels, Jim Harrison’s “The Shape of the Journey:”

It is not so much that I got
there from here, which is everyone’s
story: but the shape
of the voyage: how it pushed
onward in every direction
until it stopped

It’s not the destination, it’s the shape of the voyage that defines it. And can define us. In Walter Brueggemann’s “A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent,” he offers this prayer for today:

Self-giving God, call us to walk the road of
newness–a new self, a new society, a new world,
one neighbor at a time. May we have traveling
mercies this Lenten season. Amen.

We are each on our own journey. Some are fortunate enough to help others in their travels, some people help us along. Where our paths intersect, and where we can travel together, those are great times. This kind of trip can be lonely and rough and we need help.

The Ash Wednesday reading from the Gospel of Matthew had some really key traveling advice. Something we may want to take to heart. Matthew quotes Jesus, who talks about not storing up treasures on earth–material things, money, fame, success–but storing up “treasures in heaven,” those things that light the soul, that put us in touch with something bigger, that connect us to God:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This Lent, this spring, as we set out on our journeys; may we find and store up the right kind of treasures and know our hearts; help our fellow travelers on their way; and all know traveling mercies, as Anne Lamott and Brueggemann call them, remembering it is the shape of the journey at least as much as the destination.