It seems a strange thing to admit, rather like confessing to a class of sixth graders that you enjoy homework, but Lent is my favorite liturgical season. Other seasons are beloved with good reason, and many of us tell stories of Easter egg hunts, the singing of Christmas Carols, or even visiting diocesan camps or seaside chapels during summer’s ordinary time. I do love Advent, but it is a season continually squashed by the behemoth of Christmas. Christmas is full of joy, but it also carries a lot of materialistic baggage and gives free rein to the antics of a patron saint, the legalistic troll known as the Elf on the Shelf. I love Easter Sunday, one of my favorite days of the year, but I will never forget the disappointment I felt during my curacy seeing a nearly empty church the following Sunday. Easter, as a season, never seems to live up to its promise.
So, despite its lack of flash, I appreciate the depth of Lent. Lent is humble and unassuming. It preaches simplicity to a culture steeped in excess. While I exult in joy, and I was spiritually raised with the great Anglo-Catholic lesson that “anything worth doing is worth overdoing”, Lent advises restraint. The season guides us to choose less instead of more and counsels teaching through silence over erudite elocution. The truth is that I need Lent. Lenten Sundays combine the message of preparing for Easter while celebrating the reality of Easter in the Eucharist. This practice suits our time. We live in a period that is already and not yet, the kept promises of God surrounding and uplifting us while other hopes remain unfulfilled.
I confess to needing the seriousness of Lent, focusing on something deep and true to avoid becoming a thoughtless dilettante of the liturgical world. I need to reflect on those old commandments that I have read thousands of times and consider: What idols have I exchanged for the ancient Asherah and Baal?
St. John’s in Vernon, my new call, uses Lent as its primary Stewardship season. I have never experienced this arrangement before, but it has challenged me to devote more thought and prayer to how I am spending my money. What charities am I supporting, and what products am I buying? Do they align with the values that I find in scripture and teach in my parish? Can I find a simpler, more local option, or find a way of reusing something or going without?
Lent is challenging in its simplicity. It calls for focus and reflection. It demands something of me, and it has become my favorite season.
A Whole Bunch of Thoughts That Took 5 Minutes to Think
The Rev. Matt Handi, St. Luke’s, South Glastonbury
It’s 4 am. Too soon to be awake, too late to fall back asleep; I keep fading in and out. I went to bed with tomorrow on my mind and now tomorrow is today, first day jitters. Finally, at around 6 am I rise and head to the shower, my imagined leap out of bed is measured by a lack of sleep and the anxiousness I feel about starting a new call, my first call, a new priest in a new church.
I drive the half hour from home to Glastonbury, the morning light brightens the edges of a thin cloud with a wonderful array of oranges and yellows, a welcomed display as I head northeast on 84.
I arrive at the church. I place the key in the lock.
It doesn’t work.
I try shaking it and pushing my shoulder to the door and shaking the handle while turning the key just so and! Nothing.
First day. I’m stuck outside the church and it’s early yet and the key just won’t budge. This is frustrating.
While fiddling with the lock, my mind wanders. Frustrated thoughts mix with a rehash of the years, an appreciation of time past.
Today is the dream fulfilled. A faint call that grew louder over time, over years; I thought the act of walking into a small parish church after many years away was me answering that call. But the urge for more persisted, the urge to do more lingered. I joined the vestry, I became the Treasurer, I taught kids in J2A, I even started working for the church and still the call persisted. Impossible.
I try bracing my hip against the door, relieving any pressure on the lock that might be holding it back. One more time into the breach, I try to turn the key and! Nothing.
While fiddling some more, I realize I am standing on the shoulders of giants. Commission folks who gave me their time, their help, sat with me in conference room conversations and library chats, their calm touch and their listening ears provided support. Committee folks who gave up Saturdays to listen to my nervous rationalizations around my call to be a priest. Bishop folks who were so dedicated to guiding me through, whose words and letters and lunches were a gift of reassurance and correction.
So, I’m thinking if I press my knee against the door and my hand just above the handle while pushing on the door at the same time, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to turn the key. I do so and! Nothing.
Frustration grumbles. It’s my first day and I can’t even get into the door. I’m not even sure I belong here. What about those others? Those giants? The ones who walk into the room and you think, wow! That woman is a priest! And she carries herself with such confidence and owns the room with knowledge and care, the collar is optional. How do I measure up? And doubt, well. Let’s put away doubt.
I am out of ideas. Until. Well, I’ve been standing outside this locked door for not too long now, there are other doors. The undercroft! I can get in through the basement! And so, I head around the corner.
I look once more towards the sky; the darker indigos of early dawn are giving way to the brighter blues of daylight. The colors though, remind me of a different sky in a different place.
The sky recalls my childhood yesterdays and the brook that flowed at the bottom of my street. I would build dams down there, ingenious constructions of the 10-year-old kind. Kid things that paused the flow but stopped nothing, those dams lasted no longer than Thomas doubted.
Hearing my mother’s voice calling into the dusk it was time to head back. I walked my bike up the hill from the brook. I saw home. Bright yellow lamplight shown through the bay window of our tiny raised ranch, white with black shutters and a red door. Walking up the driveway, I dropped the bike near the shed. I walked inside.
“Hey Mom”, I said. “I’m home. I heard you calling.”
I reach the undercroft door; the key turns and the door opens.
I step inside.
There are thresholds to be crossed.
The world is a fragile place.
The Rev. Dr. Anita Schell, St. Ann’s, Old Lyme
Years ago while team teaching a course at Southern Vermont College in Bennington VT, I was struck by what one of the professors said about the critical role our imaginations play in our life as people of faith. In the Tuesday evening Comparative Religions course, my team teacher invited us to look at the imaginary games we played at ages 3 and 4. These games would give us clues as to the pursuits of our later adult years. What games did you play that highlighted your dreams? It’s such a great question!
And, our imaginations are more than pondering our own dreams. Our imaginations can help us to envision how others live, and by imagining, can increase in us greater compassion and the courage to work for change in making a better, just world for all, no matter what the consequences to our comfort levels. Such imagining a better world for all and striving to create concrete steps toward that goal were in evidence last fall at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as “COP26.”
24 lay and clergy delegates from the Episcopal Church representing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and The Episcopal Church were led by Bishop Marc Andrus of California. Part of the delegates’ mission was to learn about the state of the climate crisis and efforts to address it, and to bring what they learned back to the wider church.
During COP26, the Episcopal delegates (as well as their Anglican counterparts) communicated their priorities to U.N. member states, participated in meetings and discussion forums, shared updates on social media and hosted events, including a “Liturgy for Planetary Crisis” and morning and evening prayer services. Episcopalians participated virtually from the United States, Europe and South America. Good intentions and work notwithstanding, advocacy to reduce the negative impacts of climate crisis is not felt equally among communities in the United States and around the globe. Fragility is not a uniform experience. As our Presiding Bishop Curry said in a Nov. 12 ABC News interview., “The most impacted [are] Indigenous peoples, people who are tied to the land, poor people.” And “We will see more mass migrations of people looking for food. … These will have an impact on the poorest of the poor.”
Added to the reality of such injustice is the Covid-19 pandemic. As the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote during COP26,
“The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the world to look at how we have been living and operating, when so much of what was considered ‘normal’ was not possible. We have been confronted by our behaviour: by our sin; our greed; our human fragility; our exploitation of the environment and encroachment on the natural world. For many this uncertainty is new. But many more around the world have been living with uncertainty for decades as the grim, real and present consequence of climate change.”
The Creation Care resolution #3 adopted at ECCT’s 2021 Convention specifically addressees this moral crisis with concrete action steps for every single one of us. As with addressing Covid-19 and racism, these resolves are intentional and mindful practices we as people of faith in CT can take in our Christian discipleship. While we know these unjust realities exist, concrete data received from the resolve steps of this resolution will enable us to better serve and support every community of our beloved ECCT, especially and particularly those for whom fragility is exacerbated by these multiple crises.
The world is a fragile place. It has always been so. How can we confess where we have contributed to this fragility and turn to repair brokenness especially for those beings for whom fragility has always been a way of life?