Feast of the Annunciation: looking ahead

Today is the Feast of Annunciation.  Good news proclaimed before we can even see it.  A brave young woman, willing to accept an impossible call because it comes through an overshadowing by the power of the Most High.

“How will this be?” Mary asked, “since I am a virgin?”

The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1: 34-38)

How is your Lent coming, friends?

Our Lent has been very low key.  I can’t find the mantle letters I packed away last year, so we still have GRACE up, instead of PRAY.  Grace is good, too, and it’s apparently the message I need to be focusing on right now.  I haven’t even pulled out the Lent wreath, though the children have asked.  (I don’t know why I have such lassitude about it.)

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We have been slowly memorizing Isaiah 58:6-9 (we’re on verse 7). We’re taking this slow, so that even SweetP can join in.  I feel like the Israelites in the desert– I’d love to push ahead and get somewhere (anywhere?) faster, but the point is to bring everyone along. Leave no one behind. So we go slowly.

But Easter is around the bend, with Holy Week looming.  This is a link to our Holy Week tradition, and one the children are planning to hold me to, lassitude or not.  But I am excited to peruse my copy of Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week and Easter (out this week) for new traditions and ideas.

Lent is just around the corner

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Usually Lent sneaks up on me, and WHAM- we’re in it, without my having much chance to think ahead to it. To plan, as it were. Perhaps my absurd surprise (at this season that happens every year? Seriously?) is a side effect of my love of Epiphany. Whatever the cause- my heart or my shoes-Ash Wednesday often finds me scrambling.

This year, I have two advantages over years past. One: Epiphany was long this year. I had almost two months to celebrate the season of winter’s Light traveling forth into the world. Two: I had in my hands a copy of Let Us Keep the Feast: Epiphany and Lent. Cate MacDonald’s thoughtful chapter on Lent was a help to me.

My kids were talking about Lent in the car recently. Owen remembered his Lego Fast, during which he “lasted” only five days before caving in to play with his favorite toy. The children were eager to recommend fasts to one another: “You should give up chocolate chip cookies!” and “You should give up books!” (Apparently they remembered by recounting the story of Lauren Winter’s Lenten fast from her chapter –I think- from Girl Meets God.) I was at a loss to think how to move them from a concept as a fast as punitive or fasting for the sake of fasting, to a real fast, which would clear away cobwebs in our heart to let us hear God better.
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Cate MacDonald’s chapter focuses on Isaiah 58. Isaiah apparently had the same struggle with Israel as I am having with my children (and to be honest, with myself.)

It appears in this passage that the Lord has chosen a fast that is, in a way, no fast at all. He does not tell us what to give up, but instead what to do. The fast the Lord has chosen is charity, justice, and generosity. The fasting itself is irrelevant- or at least it could be, depending on how you use it.

So I think we will be memorizing Isaiah 58:1-9 and talking about God’s idea of fast. Some of us may choose also to do a more physical fast. I think I will pick up a prayer discipline of some sort. And we will talk as a family about how to reach out to the refugees in our backyard, and pray through how God would have us respond to the hungry, the homeless poor and the naked in our midst.

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If you are looking for a more structured way to prepare your family’s hearts for Holy Week and Easter, I recommend Ann Voskamp’s Trail to the Tree (with fewer than 40 days of meditations, so that you can start “late” and still complete the story before Easter). But let’s be real: it’s never too late to start, and a small change in my heart is still a change from where I was yesterday.  Owen’s “failed” Lego Fast- and my many “failed” fasts over many years- are not failures. They are windows into my need for God, and opportunities to begin again.

2013 Lenten Lessons

For Lent this year, I had two disciplines: 1) no blogging. 2) no Pepsi.

I had several goals in mind.  First, I wanted to eliminate the huge time-suck the internet has become for me.  I have tried in the past just to say, “well, I’m NOT going to check this site, or that one” with little success.  I am frequently on the computer for all sorts of things, and often a click here leads to a click there… and then I find myself reading about some stranger’s romance (or not) on some island I’ve never heard of and looking at hazy photos snapped with a camera equipped with an eight foot lens.  Seriously.  (Please keep being my friend.)

A few years ago, I fasted from the internet all together, with all sorts of consequences for my family (like missing every local soccer league’s registration deadline).  Now none of my children is ever going to be Mia Hamm.  Serious consequences here.  So I needed to modify THAT fast. I came up with a fast from blogging, thinking that my time in this space was a kid of gateway drug for me.

Pretty quickly (like maybe on day 2 of Lent) I was NOT blogging and found myself munching late night snacks and reading about some stranger’s “rapidly expanding”  baby bump.  (I’m not even sure why this person is famous… and I certainly wasn’t convinced I was even seeing a baby bump.)  Discipline FAIL.  I was keeping the letter of the “law”, albeit temporary law, without getting at the root of this habit I’d like to eliminate.  I found myself over those first two weeks of Lent very restless.  Unable to settle, or think, or pray.  At some point I had the brilliant idea to sit down with my paper journal, and I wrote several pages of thoughts before I finally calmed down.  And had my insight: this blog is a creative space for me.  God made me to write.  I think best with a pen [or keyboard] in my hands, and eliminating my blog cut out one of the few actual positive aspects of the internet for me.
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The next day, I saw three bald eagles sitting in a bare tree.  Remember how I was asking God to show me another eagle this year?  Last time, they were soaring.  This year, I needed to be reminded how to rest, how to be still.  And I saw three bald eagles sitting perfectly still.  [cue stirring music]  It was A SIGN.

Anyway, lesson learned.  The blog is not my problem.  But the internet…. well, I’m sure God will show me what my next step is.

Item 2: Pepsi.  Though the caloric burden of my Pepsi habit is considerable, that was not why I was led to fast from Pepsi for Lent.  I didn’t have a clue why, but as I was prying about a Lenten fast, God told me to fast from Pepsi.  (Which points out to me the fact that the blog fast was my own misguided idea, though I did learn from it.)  Most weeks, the only time I have a Pepsi is at work.  I get to work and immediately feel entitled to pop open a can and sip it between seeing patients.  Why do I do this?

The key word was there: entitled.  For whatever reason, in my head my job is a burden.  I would love to stop working, and every time I have asked God for permission to quit, He has said no.  (I’ve been asking that question in various forms for 17 years.)  And because I can’t quit, I feel entitled to a “treat.”  But this Lent, I finally looked hard at that sense of entitlement.  Why on earth am I feeling sorry for myself?  I have meaningful work.  Work that challenges my mind and allows me to meet all sorts of people.  Work that is different all the time.  I get to be present as babies enter the world and as people slip away from this world.  I am present with people through huge life transitions.  I teach medical students and new doctor and have a chance to influence how they see medicine.  I get to walk with people through the Valley of the Shadow of Death– and frequently out the other side.  It’s not always this grand, and I have my share of unpleasantness, but I saw that this is blessed work.  Honorable work.  Work that is an answer to many of my prayers for a space to minister and use my gifts.

That realization came on day 4 of Lent.  Only 36 more days without Pepsi.  So why did I continue?

I fast because I am finite.  There is only so much space in my life, in my days, in my heart.  And unnecessary– and unhelpful– habits creep in all the time.  A Lenten (or Advent) fast gives me an opportunity to clear out dead to make room for life.

Holy Week Idea

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Here are the candles Sam set out for us before church.

My dear friend Jerusha passed along this great idea to mark Holy Week.  But you have to prepare early, so I’m sharing it now.

Their family used no electric lights during Holy Week last year.  For morning and evening light, they used only candles.  I loved this idea, but had no candles in the house last year (and I was not shopping for Holy Week– sort of a consumer-fast) so it couldn’t happen.  But candles are on my grocery list for this week.  This year, with Easter a good three weeks later than last year– and Daylight Savings having already happened– the difference won’t be as noticeable.  But I still think it will be meaningful for us as a family.

Fasting from electric light has so many spiritual applications for us as Christians.  It brings to mind all the ways that I look for light from the world instead of from the Light.  It makes me cognizant of my own consumption.  It connects me to those around the world where there is no electricity.  Clearly I’m not going to unplug my refrigerator… but I could turn off the computer for the week.  And he TV.  And the radio.  I’m looking forward to this Holy Week fast.

How will you mark Holy Week?

Early-Lent Check-in

Hello, friends!  I hope you are having a fruitful Lent of prayer and fasting.  I am learning a lot.  (Is is over yet?) I am on my Sunday feast and thought I would share with you a few images from the past few weeks. I am grateful for:

  • little girls who love to dress up
  • nephews (and nieces?) to knit for
  • Lent
  • friends who came to visit (and put the clock on the stairs?)
  • signs of spring
  • snow

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What are you grateful for this season?

Lenten Intentions

There’s plenty of time to seek the Lord this season.  It’s not too late.

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A Holy Experience has several really gentle, fruitful Lenten offerings: The Trail to the Tree, which we did last year, and this year’s offering: a dedicated place in your home to seek and offer forgiveness.  I think it’s a lovely, concrete idea that will be food for us all around here.

We also received a (Caleb Voskamp) beautiful Cradle to the Cross wreath.  We used it at Advent, and I’m excited to use it as a visual reminder for Lent.

What I don’t want to do, though, is weigh myself down with more burdens.  More to-dos.

I sensed God calling me this year to give up my morning writing time– just for this season of Lent– in favor of prayer.  My writing isn’t bad. On the contrary, I think it’s good for me.  But prayer is better, and I think I will be more determined to find other time to write… while I don’t make other time to pray.   I am eager and excited to begin this discipline today.

And when I fall down, and just.don’t.bother to turn on my alarm… I will pick myself up. Dust off my knees, and get down on them again.

Blessings to you this Lenten Season.