Archive for Lenten discipline

2014 Lent 39

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , on April 18, 2014 by timtrue

Good Friday

John 19:38-42

You know, since beginning this self-imposed Lenten discipline of writing something everyday based on a lectionary reading, a lot of numbers have been going though my head.  Numbers like 50, 62.5, 77.5, 85, and, today, 97.5.  These are percentages, if you care to know, based on how much of my Lenten discipline has been accomplished thus far.  (Tomorrow will be Day 40: 100%.)

These numbers started occurring to me before 50–probably something more like 35–about the time, that is, when I began losing momentum.  This post-a-day business has been a difficult discipline to keep!

What started out as a quaint idea–to write a short devotion, and by short I was envisioning something like 250 words–quickly raised the bar.  I don’t know if I thought it was fun in the beginning or what, but if you were to go back and look at the first few Lenten posts, they each contain far more than 250 words.  (“2014 Lent 1,”, for example, is 787 words, and I believe it’s one of the shorter ones.)  Anyway, before I knew it, I felt like my personal bar was more like 800 words.  In the end, I think only two posts came out to fewer than 300 words (unless today’s or tomorrow’s does too–but today’s is already near 200); and my average (though I haven’t verified) has got to be above 800.  (Let’s see: that’s 800 x 40 = 32,000 words, or a fourth of a book.  Dang!)

So you see how numbers bully me?

Also, do you have any idea how much time it takes to write 800 words a day on average?  And something that’s quasi-suitable for publishing?

Needless to say, mine has been a tiring Lenten discipline this year.

But today I will have completed 97.5% of it.  Yes!  One day to go!

Now, to tie this in with today’s lectionary selection, I’m going to tell you why I didn’t just quit, just bail out on my self-imposed extra discipline during the busiest season of the year for a priest.  And it’s simply this: because Jesus didn’t bail out 97.5% of the way through.

I mean, try to imagine Christianity if Jesus had been in the Garden on the fateful night and said, “Not your cup, Father, but mine.  I ain’t gonna go through with it!”  Or, worse still, if after he had been executed and laid in the tomb–the thing we remember most acutely today, Good Friday–what if he had just stayed there?  What if he had gone 97.5% of the way?

I’ll tell you: there would have been no resurrection.  That’s means no Christianity, no concept of the Trinity, no new commandment of love, no Church.

Now some of you readers might want to argue that that’s not such a bad scenario.  But I disagree.

Yeah, without the Church there may not have been any Crusades; yeah there may not have been the medieval Church, an institution that held controlling sway over most European peoples for a thousand years.  Yeah, the Church has made mistakes.

But wars, battles, controlling and liberty-killing governments–these things cannot be blamed on the Church.  You should know better!  (Just look at 20th-century Russian history!)  These things happened long before Christianity ever came about; and they will continue to happen throughout human history–though we can hope and strive for less so as time marches on.

Rather, what the Church can be blamed for is the hope of resurrection in Christ; and his love being poured out to the ends of the earth.  Hope and love?  These are fuel for acts of charity–or, to put fashionable clothes on it, progress.  How can anyone fault the Church for that?

Anyway, I for one am grateful that Jesus went 100% of the way through with the work he came to do.  The least I can do is show it by sticking to this little commitment I made in his name, to write a little everyday during Lent, to complete something I started–even if it inconveniences me a little bit.

But I’ll say this: after Lent is over I plan to take a few days off from this blogging business.

2014 Lent 1

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , , on March 5, 2014 by timtrue

Today is Ash Wednesday, thus marking the beginning of Lent.  I try to create and follow a Lenten discipline for myself each year–something I will do, or something to fast from, etc., through the season, always different than last year–as a way to do some introspection.  How have I grown in my faith over the last year, or not?

Anyway, to get to the point, this year I’ve decided to write something each day during Lent, a short reflection on a passage of scripture drawn from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.  There’s a lectionary in the back, with assigned daily readings.  We are in year two; so the readings for Ash Wednesday are found on page 951.  My options for contemplation today are therefore psalms 32, 95, 102, 130, and 143; Amos 5:6-15; Hebrews 12:1-14; and Luke 18:9-14.  Surely I ought to be able to come up with something, yeah?

So I’ll do this each day in Lent (Sundays excepted): look at the lectionary, decide on a passage, and write a short reflection.  I have no idea what the result will be.  It’s a small journey within the larger pilgrimage of life, one from which I hope to learn a new thing or two about myself and my relationship with Christ this year.  Consider joining me if you like.

So then, Day 1, Ash Wednesday:

Luke 18:9-14

Two men are contrasted in Jesus’s parable: a Pharisee and a tax-collector.  One prays and thanks God that he is so awesome.  The other is obviously humbled, asking God for mercy.  Jesus then concludes this story with a well-known statement: “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

And I think, “Okay, so I need to be humble.  That’s the key!  Then things will go my way.  Then I’ll make ends meet; then people will respect me; then my prayers will be answered; then I will be exalted.”

But here’s the thing.  No one notices the humbled state of the tax-collector in Jesus’s story except God.  Humility is the characteristic Jesus is emphasizing, sure.  But nowhere is there a lesson here that people will treat the humble person respectfully, or that the humble person’s prayers will be answered, or that the humble person’s financial ends will meet, or that the humble person will enjoy good health, or . . .

Nowhere does Jesus say that people won’t push the humble person around.

Since moving to San Antonio I’ve noticed a lot of pushy people.  I don’t really know why.  Maybe it’s because the mountains of Tennessee fostered a slower, more considerate lifestyle; and relocating has brought some hitherto unnoticed observations to the surface.  Maybe the culture of material consumerism around here is epidemic.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been bullied a time too many and I’m now over-sensitized.  Maybe I’m just getting old.  Whatever the reason, there seems to me to be a high percentage of pushy people around here.  And being humble, as Christ encourages, does nothing to alleviate this percentage!

So the temptation, at least for me, is to push back.  Someone tries to push me out of the way and I fight to keep my place.  Otherwise, if I let that person in, three or four others are right there to capitalize on my moment of yielding–three or four others push too and I’ve just lost my place in line altogether.

Get the picture?

So what does it mean that those who humble themselves will be exalted?  Or that those who exalt themselves (pushy people?) will be humbled?

Yet, true as all this may be, Jesus still encourages personal humility.  And nowhere does he say that the humble person will get his way, or that the humble person will make ends meet, or that she will have all her prayers answered.  So, how exactly will the person who humbles himself be exalted?

I’m not sure of the answer.  But a thought occurs to me that Jesus more than any other person humbled himself.  Pushy people pushed him around.  The mocked him, struck him, and spat in his face.  Then they exalted him: they lifted him up–on a cross!

But look at him now.  Look now at how the whole world views him.  Whether Christian or not, the whole world knows his name.  Despite the fact that he walked the earth 2000 years ago!  He has not been forgotten.  Rather, he has been exalted higher than any other.

If nothing else then, this thought is a good reminder to me to let pushy people go about their business; but as for me, I’ll try to follow the way of humility.

But I said, “If nothing else.”  I believe there’s not nothing else to this thought; indeed, there’s much more–more that I will never see or know.