The Many Deaths of Lent, Part Two

Yesterday was the fifth Sunday of Lent.  From this point on, it’s Palm Sunday and the Passion Week.  Lent, then, is either undercurrent and atmosphere or it’s a last-minute add-on.  I’d like to think that it’s the former for me, but I’m definitely making a kind of move within the season as I’m starting two weeks of fall break.

I really liked the collect for this week:

Almighty God, You alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

As many who reflect on the season of Lent quickly point out, the season itself is a kind of “crash course” in working with “unruly wills and affections.” That’s the “long game” that this short season points towards.  But it also about the redirection of those wills and affections to what is truest and greatest: God himself.  The other nice stroke in the prayer is the acknowledgement of “the swift and varied changes of the world.”  We are trained like ducks in a pond to go after whatever new break is thrown our way, which betrays our assertions about God and the goodness of his character.

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I mentioned a kind of turn in the season now that I’m starting two weeks of spring break.  It’s a little odd to embrace some kind of discipline during a school break.  If nothing else, I’m hoping that, having cleared the decks, I can redirect time and energy to some of the things that I had hoped to process over the course of Lent.  A few weeks ago, I made a short list of things I felt like “needed to die” in the way I was living.   Much of the impetus for the list comes from lessons learned while reflecting on this particular school year and my “temporary vocational stretch.”  The first of those was about how I communicate with others in public (more from pulpit than classroom lectern, but the case could be made for both).  Over the last three quarters, I’ve had multiple and regular opportunities to speak before people.  That’s allowed me to get a better sense of the stylistic quirks and ruts that I tend towards (and that need to change).  The second item on the list involves how I interact with people at work.  That’s a matter of both role and relationship (and is the direct result of taking on more responsibilities for the year while having little, if any, shift in how I (dis)connect with others in the process.  The third item has something to do with general disposition towards the world.  When I made the move to Hawaii, I become a real learner in disposition (little did I realize that such a disposition was one that would help me stay here as long as I have).  And while I have no plan or desire to become less of a learner, I do need to make sure that disposition does not devolve into something passive and unhealthy (and I’m pretty sure it will if it hasn’t already).

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One thing that Schmemann encourages people to do while observing Lent is to embrace “spiritual reading.”  I think a lot of Christians have at least a sense of this without being told to do it.  It’s wisdom, nonetheless.  A few weeks ago I decided to revisit the thinking of Henri Nouwen.  While I’ve read many of his books already, I had not taken any time to read a small collection of posthumous edits having to do with spiritual direction, formation, and discernment.  I read through the book of spiritual direction quickly and have moved on to the book on formation.  If nothing else, Nouwen’s thinking and articulation of things is helping me with some handles to use as I try to make sense of the spiritual life, particularly as lived by a single guy far from home.

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