I have long been a lover of Lent. I didn’t grow up with the practice because simple-living and low-church Brethren haven’t been very keen on marking *some* periods of time as more sacred or special than all the others, since *all* of life is sacred. But I still love Lent. I generally lean toward the quiet & contemplative, anyway, and so a season that invites all of us, together, to be still and intentional about our spiritual lives feels like sinking into familiar territory.
Except, the past year has been familiar territory. In a meeting last week, we were asked to name our “pandemic superpower” and I said that mine was probably my independence & appreciation of solitude. I like being alone; prefer it, in fact, seven times out of ten. The forced solitude hasn’t felt like a huge burden these last twelve months because I know how to be alone.
But being alone is different than being lonely, and the pandemic frayed the rope of carefully crafted connections that had kept me tethered to others. I couldn’t have Sunday dinners with my friend across town anymore, my book club wasn’t eating churros together at the local coffee shop each month, no travel for those bursts of intense, joyful connection with long-distance friends. I couldn’t even enjoy a Sunday morning in the building with my congregation – an exhausting but satisfying block of intense connection.
I am less excited for Lent this year, because the last twelve months have felt like one, long, imposed block of ascetic loneliness. A colleague confessed that being alone with God so much has amplified the voice of the Divine for them, but that has not been true for me. As someone who spends a ton of time in her own head, I need other people to help me hear God clearly. So much has been taken away from us without our consent and without our choice this year. Some of that was probably dross and detritus, heavy baggage that we needed to let go of, anyway. And some of it has been very, very painful to lose.
A chunk of the pain settled in my spirit this week, and I found myself aflame with anger at the absurdity of it all. We are living in an absurd time. Trying to lead people in worship when there is no one else in the room with me is ABSURD. An entire state opting out of a shared power grid and shutting down their plants in order to save money while people die: ABSURD. The fact that the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines are patented property, meaning that only certain companies can produce and sell them meaning that more people are dying: ABSURD. Whiteness protecting itself even unto death – in Congress and the church – is ABSURD. My health insurance company requiring me to take my own blood and send it off through the USPS in order to avoid a $200/month surcharge is ABSURD. Christians in the United States arguing about whether or not women can lead (hi, hello), whether or not LGBTQ people are fully human (come ON) , and whether or not we’re racist (spoiler alert, we ARE) while people are literally dying in the streets from exposure, hunger, poverty & COVID is so far beyond absurd that I cannot bear to say any more about it and keep doing my jobs.
And so, here we are, in Lent, again, in the midst of this life’s absurdities. I’ve got two resources staking up my tired soul in this season. My congregation is partnering with the neighborhood Methodists in a series called “Again & Again,” by folks at A Sanctified Art, and I’m grateful for the partnership, for the poetry & art, and the community that we will form in gathering around scripture together over these weeks.
And I’m also grateful for my friend Anna Lisa’s lenten devotional from Brethren Press, The Wild Way of Jesus. I’m grateful for her words and invitation and also for the knowledge that people I know and love around the country are reading the same text, asking themselves the same questions, and turning their hearts in the same direction day in and day out during this season.
I stink at fasting in general – last night I broke my casual agreement with myself not to do any unnecessary spending in the month of February by giving in to a mystery Grab Bag book deal from an iconic DC bookstore. But I do pretty well at add-on challenges: I walked 100 miles in January and am on track to practice yoga every day this month. And I wrote here, in this space, every day of Advent last year.
So, I’m making another add-on commitment to myself, to God, and to y’all: I’ll write here in this space each day until Easter. Advent unleashed a torrent of anger that had been building up over the last year, and I cannot promise that Lent won’t deliver much of the same. But here we are, together in this absurd time, and we’ve got scripture, Anna Lisa’s words and art from the women at A Sanctified Art to guide us. I may still be stuck here in my house alone for another couple of months, but I know – and perhaps it is helpful for you to hear, too – that we’re not doomed to eternal loneliness. Thanks be to God.
I’ll be here in this space every day. I’d be so happy if you joined me.
Thank you for making me feel normal! Blessings! Sharon Flora
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