I forgot about lent, and I really wanted to do it this year. After a period of confusion and mere survival, it seemed an exercise in devotion and focus would be therapeutic and constructive. I didn’t grow up observing the lenten season, like most people who grew up in protestant camps. Wednesdays don’t usually capture my attention, and Utah isn’t exactly known as Mardi Gras central, which didn’t help. Ultimately, I was too busy and focused on my own junk, and did not make lent a priority.
I always thought Mardi Gras was really weird, as if the indulgence undid the forthcoming discipline and denial of comfort.This season is always tied my suffering, which does not match Christ’s, but is still substantial: this Easter will be the 9th anniversary of my mother’s death.
I’m usually OK, but tonight, as I tucked Stella in, she asked “if your mom was still alive, would she like me?” I assured her that grandma would love her very much. It washed over me a few minu later, and took over for a little while. I’ve written about it before, but it hasn’t stopped being my reality. Most of the time I’m not aware I’m wounded.
Lent is a contemplation of life and death, of significance and illusions of comfort and security.
Some old friends (not that old, but from when we lived in VA) visited, and we went with them to the church they attended when they lived here. The sermon was about “brokenness”, and I realized again that being an evangelical for over half my life has left me unprepared to encounter suffering not caused by personal sin, either on the part of the sufferer or their oppressors. I can think of myriad examples: Bonhoffer, MLK, Elie Weisel, the stories of the martyrs, C.S. Lewis’s “A Grief Observed”, parables of invalids, of Lazarus, of the hemorrhaging woman, the epileptic boy. The oppression of the ever-faithful Galileo, African-American slavery, the mistreatment of Asian immigrants, and the near obliteration of Native peoples (ask the Arawak, wait, you can’t), Job. These are rich, diverse narratives, and at times resonate with me.
Other times, when Paloma is having a type of seizure (non- convulsive status epilepticus) that causes her to stare at a fixed point through people, and her eyes are shifty clockwork clicky, its like watching my mom die all over again. The biggest difference being with my mom, my first thought was “I have to be strong for everyone else”. With Paloma’s typical seizures, that’s the mode I’m in. When it’s a thankfully rare NCSE, my thought is “I’m not man enough to handle this, I don’t deserve the privilege of being her father, she needs someone stronger”.
I grew up hearing the phrase ” God won’t put more on you than you can handle”. I had a pastor describe that as kneeology as opposed to theology; that it was something said to confort people that didn’t have a scriptural or real world base a pseudo a syncretic niceism. I reject the notion of a monster god that is allegedly capable of being a loving diety involved in our lives to allow or create a custom level of suffering dependent upon faith and resilience. It doesn’t hold up to scriptural scrutiny or even a passing consideration of what love is.
Which brings me back to Lent. I want to be close to God, to love a loving God who authors sunsets and creates three-toed sloths, but that seems so far away from my experience that it might as well be in Narnia.
Growing up in evangelical and diet-Pentecostal churches, I heard ritual and “religion” oft ballyhooed. It was very punk rock; an iconoclastic aesthetic minimalism employed to strip away the pageantry and glamour and whatever was nonessential and separated the congregants from connecting directly to God was the same process for making seeker sensitive youth group culture out of sober old-time Southern Baptists or going from ELO to Minor Threat.
Now, however, such tradition seems less anathemic to me. Being tethered not only to a big, holy God, but anchored through human history, singing songs and praying and enacting disciplines in a manner which has outlasted empires and dynasties seems romantic and comforting.
Try as I might, Christian thought still seems the best fit for for me, and I’ll admit I was a little resentful when I realized it. So we’re church shopping. I want to find someplace, quickly, that is good enough, and get plugged in. We’re in our 6th city since getting married, and we’ve always been nudged to the right faith community for us at that moment. We’ve found opportunities to get in there cheek-to-jowl and apply our talents and experiences toward something meaningful, and I have no reason to believe this time will be any different. Tomorrow we’ll be trying a Presbyterian church for the second time. I like that the Presbys are the church of Scotland, they have hymns and liturgy, and that they tend to have solid theology (Tim Keller!) The congregation is small, and skewed a much older than us, but I’m willing to try.
I have been enduring and surviving, like being caught in side control bottom, with no opening to escape. That’s it. I’m willing to let it happen. I’m trying so f—ing hard. I submit. I’m ready to listen and work, to pray and to keep showing up, and you are invited to see how it’s going.