Guest Blog by Siv Ricketts on the Intentional Lent Series:
“…Lent is a speed bump in the church year, inviting us into reflection, confession, and prayer as we approach Holy Week and Easter, a time when we remember the profound costliness of God’s abundant love for us.” –Susan Phillips, PhD, Executive Director of New College Berkeley
I love the image of the Church season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter (Sundays not included), as a speed bump. Every year, no matter how (ab)normal life may be, I seem to speed along and oh wow here comes Lent and—wham—I’ve hit it too fast. I need to slow down. Observing Lent can help.
Often Lent involves giving something up (chocolate) or taking something on (acts of service) as a way of identifying with Jesus as he journeyed toward his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Yet we need to acknowledge that, for many of us, these last couple of years have been hard. At the least, life as we knew it in 2019 shifted. We do well to ask God: what do you want for me in Lent as we emerge from an unusual time in our lives and world history?
When I recently encountered a list of words related to purpose in writing, three leaped off the page: Explore. Play. Practice. They get along well together, and I believe I will enjoy watching them frolic in the long green grass of this Lenten season (yes, the grass is already long and green in California).
I want to Explore. To strike out on an expedition. To take twisty-turning side roads and unexpected paths in the deep forest. At one time I might have felt afraid, but I’m leaving timidity behind. I have confidence that my soul will guide me with yes or no responses along the way. I welcome everything, everyone, every occasion I encounter today, because I trust it will be for my healing.
I’d like to say I’m packing light, but that’s not true. Even if my backpack contains little more than snacks, a sweatshirt, and a flashlight, my head and heart are overstuffed. That’s part of the point, of course: I need to get lost to be found. I need to empty myself and create space for what may come.
Exploration will tuck new tools into my backpack I didn’t know I’d need. It will fill my eyes with breathtaking sights I could only extrapolate from travel books, imagination, and dreams. It will fill my heart with experiences that amplify my joy. I will encounter prophets and teachers, leaders and other pilgrims who swell my love to overflow. I may come home weary and changed. I expect to come home grateful.
I want to Play, and I’ve traveled enough to know that exploration can be hard work and playful, too. In my tendency toward contemplation, I naturally find myself alone, deep in thought, immersed in words—mine or others as I move between writing and reading. It can get a little heavy, and my mental muscles grow weary as my physical muscles grow itchy from sitting too long in our overstuffed recliner.
I need playful movement. I want to skip along new trails, and also to crouch low and watch the fascinating tiny creatures I’d miss otherwise. Maybe I’ll pull out crayons and paper and draw as I observe them. Maybe I’ll journal with colored pencils. Maybe we’ll find a deck of cards and play together, right there on a trail in the woods.
After all, I am walking toward Good Friday, not racing. There’s no rush. I need to move slowly enough to remember Jesus, my companion. To walk hand-in-hand, noticing what he points out about this lovely world he made, about my life in this time, about his love for me. What’s coming will be devastating, though not paralyzing: Sunday always comes after Friday; Easter always follows Good Friday. Joy in the morning means I can play joyfully now. And later.
I want to Practice. When I first read Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline in the early 1990s, it was life-changing. Foster advocates for ordinary followers of Jesus, not just spiritual giants, to engage with everyday disciplines that help them connect with Jesus and add joy to life in the midst of laundry and lawn-mowing. Disciplines such as meditation and study, simplicity and solitude, confession and celebration. I became something of a spiritual discipline junky and, as I type those words, I’m not sure how to feel about being addicted to paths that connect me to God… Is that healthy addiction, or an inappropriate metaphor?
Yet these days I find myself substituting “practice” for “discipline.” Discipline feels exacting, harsh, rigid. When I practice yoga, I listen to what my body needs. Some days parts of me feel strong or wobbly, and tomorrow will be different. Some days, certain poses require modification because I can’t bend that way; it hurts, I need props, gentleness, maybe a slight wiggle to ease into place. It’s a practice, not a perfection. And it’s my practice, not up for comparison with others. It’s communal and personal, imperfect and improving. As with physical practice, so goes spiritual practice. Even the wobbles find acceptance so long as I keep at it. The practice itself imparts grace.
As Lent begins, none of us can say for certain what this season will hold. I will read and write. I will engage in solitude and time with others. It may look a lot like life in any other season. However, if you—like me—hear God’s gentle whisper of invitation to Explore Playful Practice, I offer some questions for your consideration:
How does this approach to Lent sound similar or different to other Lenten approaches you’ve been taught or experienced?
Which of the three words—explore, playful, or practice—most appeals to your spirit as you consider Lent, and what about that word resonates for you?
What might it look like in your life to explore playful practice this Lent?