Lent has arrived!
I must be honest, Lent for me has most often been a non-starter. The idea of giving up something, and by sheer force of will, not having/eating/using it for all of Lent, has never appealed to me. I just couldn't get my head around how not eating chocolate for 40 days would draw me closer to God. Certainly it would prove something to my friends, family, and myself. That I could control my chocolate appetite. But it just always felt ... I don't know, incongruent to me. I believe that when I'm craving a particular food, or a practice (watching tv, trolling fb or whatever), that those cravings are my body speaking to me about deeper needs. I just didn't understand how simply denying those cravings would help me to grow. These kinds of Lenten practices (which I know are meaningful for many many people),are, for me, yet another way of considering my body as a problem. Another way of emphasizing that the spirit is good and the flesh is bad.
And since denying cravings was the only Lenten experience I had really been exposed to, I simply gave lip service to Lent. I didn't think I could really do the whole Lent thing.
After awhile, I began to hear more and more about people adding a practice during Lent. A new way of praying, or a new commitment to prayer. This resonated more with me. I could see how incorporating a new spiritual practice might draw me closer to God. Yet I still wondered if there wasn't a fuller way to walk with Jesus to the cross, Jesus who was fully spirit and fully embodied.
And then yesterday, I heard an absolutely fabulous sermon that helped me to consider Lent in an entirely new way. A woman in our congregation preached on Jesus' temptations and made the observation that Satan planted one of the most insidious seeds in Jesus' mind. The seed of doubt. Doubt that he really was the son of God. Doubt that he really was God's beloved. And isn't that essentially at the heart of all of our temptations? Doubt that we are beloved and valued, doubt that we are who God says we are? Doubt that we are created in God's image, that we are good? Isn't Lent less about conquering our bodies through our own strength of will, and more about listening to our bodies and embracing our belovedness as God's children. Drawing near to God through the season of Lent is more than crushing our bodies and elevating our spirits, it is about walking with Jesus who lived fully and vibrantly as both, as a whole human being. I am not doing her sermon justice at all!
During this season of Lent, I will be engaging in a variety of practices, knowing that I find life and hope in creativity and diversity. I will be engaging in practices with my mind, and spirit and body. Practices that draw me inward and outward and upward. Practices that are solitary and that are connected to others. While these practices may feel random or strange to others, they feel just right for me.
Our congregation is working at reading the entire Bible before Easter. We each simply pick the chapters we want to read and hopefully by Easter everything has been chosen. I have chosen to read Leviticus. In part, because no one every wants to read Leviticus. And in part because I love how the commands in Leviticus remind us that our relationship with God is interwoven into every aspect of our lives. Leviticus is a book that doesn't ignore the body.
I will also be following Nadia Bolz-Weber's list of 40 ideas for Lent. I love the variety of practices that she offers. Everything from reading scripture, to reading up on human trafficking. She too reminds me that every aspect of life is interwoven with God's Spirit.
And finally, I will be praying several times a week in particular forms of embodied prayer. This is in part because I'll be leading our children in a new form of prayer each Sunday and I am painfully aware that I can never ask another to go where I will not go myself. But also because I find it easier to incorporate the body into prayers I do with children. I recognize the value of nurturing them as whole beings, fully embodied spirits and I realize that in truth, I long to be nurtured in the same way. My body is often crying out to be more physically involved in the world and in my relationship with God, but more often I am concerned with things like orthodoxy (right belief), orthopraxy (right practice) and orthopathy (right feeling, for lack of a better word) than I am with diving headlong into an embodied relationship with the Divine. I am more concerned with being appropriate in the eyes of others, than with being embraced in the arms of God.
So this Lent will be all about embodied encounter (thanks to the Spirit filled words of Tamara Shantz), bringing my whole self to bear as I walk with Jesus in life and in death. And I'm being reminded of the words we spoke at our Ash Wednesday service, words that also draw us to remember our physical beings:
We are dust and to dust we will return,
In life and in death, we belong to God.