One of the complaints of modern living is how busy we all are. In fact, it is sometimes offered as a badge of courage for surviving the fray: “Hi, how are you?” “Really busy! And you?” “Same!”
Jesus preached that we have to turn around (“repent”) in order to see the kingdom of heaven in our midst. Lent is the church season for making the necessary course corrections that will set us back on the right track. People will sometimes make special sacrifices, like dieting, or take on specific obligations, like making special offerings of time or money, as a corrective spiritual measure.
Lent at St. Stephen’s begins with Ash Wednesday, on March 1, and an evening service that offers the Imposition of Ashes, an ancient sign of humility intended to remind us of our mortality. Recalling that we are all going to die someday might sound morbid, but it works to sharpen the urgency of re-setting our priorities.
Next Saturday, March 4, we are offering a Lenten workshop that will involve walking the labyrinth, another ancient—in fact, pre-Christian—practice that engages not just the heart and mind, but the body as well, in a “walking meditation”.
On Tuesday evenings throughout the Lenten season (from March 7 to April 4) we will be studying the practice of mindfulness, the spiritual discipline of “paying attention”. Various meditation techniques will be explored to stop the racing of our minds and bring our attention back to the present moment.
Welcome to Lent!
Churches are like small towns. We spend time with people who leave an indelible imprint on our lives, people who get to know us, and we them, in familial relationships that sometimes last a lifetime. We mark each other’s milestones, the good and the bad alike, laughing and weeping together until one of us takes our leave … and the entire community feels the loss.
This past week we celebrated the life of Marguerite Picken. Marguerite was one hundred years old, and most of those years she spent with us as an active member of St. Stephen’s. It was her habit to attend our early Sunday morning service so not everyone knew Marguerite in recent years. But even as she seemed to shrink before our eyes, her genuine interest about each person she met meant that you didn’t forget her once you’d met her. And she didn’t forget you.
The brightness that shone in her eyes, born of intelligence and curiosity, showed a love of life and a daily delight in God’s fascinating world. Children figured prominently in that world and her natural family had to “draw the circle wide” many times to accommodate all those whom she regarded as family. Right up to the end, as her world closed in upon itself, her smile could light up the room at the appearance of an old friend.
We are diminished by Marguerite’s passing, but she has left her mark on all who were lucky enough to have known her. RIP.
Jesus told us to repent (“turn around”) and recognize the Kingdom of heaven in our midst. His parables and his actions all drew people’s attention to this heavenly realm that is not a “pie in the sky when you die by and by and by”, but a present-day reality here and now. To be a follower of Jesus means to live from this reality, and from all the healing and hope it promises.
But training ourselves to recognize the Kingdom of heaven in our midst is a major adjustment. What we see—and all too readily—are reasons for worry and despair: political changes that alarm us; economic uncertainties that loom large; personal challenges that overwhelm us. How do we “repent”, as Jesus taught, “turning around” to see signs of hope?
Most of the religious traditions identify an openness of mind and spirit that is sometimes called “mindfulness”. It is the art—cultivated through practice—of simply paying attention. We learn this in meditation as we sit in silence or quietly walk the circular path of the labyrinth. We practice it during the day as we grow conscious of our breathing and catch those moments when we need simply to exhale, long and slow.
Lent this year at St. Stephen’s will be all about mindfulness. Our Sunday worship will feature small stretches of silence, reminding us to slow down, breathe, and be present. Our Lenten study will consider a number of books on this very theme. Come, repent, and see.