Tumbling in the Sand
As of today, February 13,2013, the season of Lent has begun yet again. Lent is my favorite season of the year, and I have marked it’s passing in numerous different ways. Some years I had strict disciplines that excluded large portions of my diet for the full forty days (which, I almost kept perfectly). Some years, I kind of watched the days zip by and did nothing much at all, other than try to keep up with everyday life (which is sometimes plenty challenging enough, thank you very much).
This year, I have decided to do a couple of things. I’m following a guided spiritual retreat through the writings of Hildegaard von Bingen, lead by Christine Valters Paintner over at Abbey of the Arts. I’m planning on fasting (just fluids) one day a week (check out a great post “Why Fast?” by Bishop Michael Rinehart on why it might be worth tackling that challenge). And, of course there is worship—lots of worship that I will help prepare and lead over the next six weeks (I suppose that is work, but there is a lot of “spiritual discipline” to it as well). And, then there is one other thing: I’m going to blog daily. Or at least try—anyone who follows the blog knows I’m a little erratic about posting incredibly regularly produced things…
Anyway, I want to blog about my experience of the season of Lent this year. And, as the title of this post suggests, it’s going to be geared toward the more likely result of my well meaning spiritual disciplines, but also about what I learn about grace and God’s grace in the midst of my foibles.
Take today, for instance. I had every intention of getting up in time for the very short and very early “peak” commuter train schedule in Naugatuck (there are only two trains that run at peak: they run at 6:06am and 6:51am), so that I could go down to the train station and offer commuters who weren’t going to make worship anywhere the opportunity to receive ashes and prayers.
Right. Do you know how early 5:00am is? To those of you who get up and do that kind of crazy early schedule regularly, I commend you and I am in awe of you. At 5am when the alarm went off, I had a pretty heated argument with myself about getting up … and the well meaning part that really wanted to offer ashes … well, it lost. I went back to sleep.
I have millions of wonderful excuses about why I couldn’t get up, but, really, excuses don’t help much and I spent most of the day feeling slightly guilty about this (particularly since my awesome colleagues did get up and offer ashes-to-go). Read: “Bringing Ashes to the Masses” and “Rail Religion Arrives as Union Station” Great stuff! Great opportunity to give people a chance to see the holy in the ordinariness of their lives. Great chance to meet and care about people in the community where they are.
Not a great opportunity for grace for myself …
Until tonight. Our 7pm service at Immanuel coincided with the local AA group’s meeting time and an AA member asked me on the way in if I might give out ashes later (she couldn’t attend the service—she had a meeting to go to). After worship, several members of the AA group came up and received ashes from me—and gave me a special gift of grace. That is not to say that the members I serve at Immanuel and Salem aren’t awesome—they are. And giving ashes to them was as powerful an experience this year as I have ever had. It was joy and it was sadness, too. Each person in the community I serve is a blessing—and I sure remember it when I look them in the eyes and mark their foreheads with ash.
But, here’s the thing: I have found it always to be an amazing experience to talk to people from AA. I have yet to meet someone from that group who doesn’t get that they haven’t got it all figured out. I have yet to meet someone from that group who hasn’t been an amazing human being with an incredible story. I have yet to meet someone from that group who hasn’t been amazingly gracious and grateful when I am simply kind.
And so tonight, these guys from AA were, for me, just that little extra bit of grace from God and that reminder that I needed to recall that this Lent thing isn’t all about getting it right: it’s about learning to love by learning to trust in God’s unexpected moments of grace.
Read next post: “Failing” Lent: Day 2