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Good morning, friends, and peace to your hearts in this new week ~
Lent begins on Wednesday (!!!), and so begins the journey of 40 days (plus Sundays). If you have been part of a church for a long time, like myself, it’s slick and easy to slip into rote practice here, acting as though there is a switch for “Lent mode” where you do all the expected things—fasting, confession, ash soot in the forehead creases….
Too often, I have entered Lent this way. Like, here is my checklist, and it’s all the familiar things. This fits rather comfortably with how I often try to live—with things already figured out.
The cultural air we breathe praises expertise. Embedded in most of the messages we hear are calls to efficiency and optimization, motivational reminders to prioritize and grow what you’re already good at because that’s “the best use of your time.” Don’t “waste time.”
But that mentality—one I succumb to frequently!—misses 90% of life’s richness. Because as trite and cliche as it sounds, the journey, the pilgrimage, is where all the good stuff happens.
Some time ago, I enrolled in a watercolor art class. I’ve dabbled in different art mediums in the past, but not watercolor. So, when my husband gave me a watercolor set one Christmas, I naturally set out to find a class where I could master it.
A local art center had a six-week course. That should be enough time to get good, right?
(If you’re cringing at the complete ignorance/arrogance here, I am too)
I will always remember the first class. The three other students had all taken watercolor classes before. One of them had a current exhibit of her work at a local coffee shop.
I set out all my supplies in a nice line, as though being in control of a tidy work area would make up for all the insecurity I had in every other area.
I expected our teacher to begin with the basics. to have her paper on the easel, leading us stroke by stroke, directing us in what brush to use, which colors to try. To have an example piece, for pete’s sake.
Instead, she set up a tiny card table in the middle of the room. On it, she placed a tiny box of cranberry colored mums in cellophane wrap, with three baby pumpkins alongside. Oh, and a porcelain skull. Dia de los Muertos was coming up.
She then plugged in the tiny lamp, craning the neck to shine and create shadow.
I waited. No instruction. No example sheet. Everyone around me started studying and sketching.
I felt the anger and frustration start bubbling up. Wasn’t she going to tell me what to do? I’m paying for this!
Sensing my paralysis, the teacher walked to my side.
“Start with a thumbnail,” she said.
“Just draw the rough shapes of the objects in a small square to get the positions. Draw what you see,” she said. “And remember, use your eraser as much as you need. Drawing is a lot about editing.”
Just what a perfectionist wants to hear…
This was how the next six weeks proceeded to go. Enter the room. Look at the table. Draw and paint what I saw, fumbling my way along, feeling the discomfort, trusting the process, not focusing on the end result.
As the end of the class approached, we learned there would be a student exhibition. There were no qualifiers. Any piece would be accepted. My silent hope was to have something I could put in the display. And so on the last day of class, I set out to try.
When I was deciding on the title for the piece, a phrase came immediately to mind.
“Everything is your teacher.”
What I expected to learn (and from whom) was vastly different than what and where I did. It was its own form of pilgrimage, one step at a time.
And it illumined for me the deep current of truth and wisdom which says there are no short-cuts here. Or in life.
The upper floors of skyscrapers don’t kiss the clouds without the foundation carved long ago through mud and cement.
Or I think of the conversation I had in the car with my daughter while driving home from gymnastics practice in which she lamented all the poses and moves she can’t do yet. “You have to learn some of these basics first,” I tried to comfort her. “But can’t I just skip all that earlier stuff?” she asked. Oh, how I could relate.
Richard Rohr talks about this a lot, too, especially in one of my favorite books from him, Falling Upward. It focuses on the two halves of life, with the second half being one of greatest fullness and wisdom. “We can’t do a nonstop flight to the second half of life by reading a lot of books about it,” he says. “Grace must and will edge us forward.”
Grace. Meaning, what only God can give, and we can’t contrive or force ourselves.
So, I am realizing my deepest prayer this Lent is to enter it as a true journey, where I am open to change, don’t assume I know much, and embrace discomfort.
I think of the beautiful description Christine Valters Paintner’s shared about the meaning of pilgrimage, and how being a pilgrim means going into uncomfortable or unknown territory. It means being stretched. The root word of “pilgrim” is “stranger.” You have to “feel your habits and preconceived ideas stretched apart,” she says. “You must embrace this in order to keep the journey going.”
Here’s to everything being our teacher this Lent, friends. With you to embrace the journey…
From Ash and Starlight, a prayer for Lent….
You came, Jesus, to show me the
best way to live and walk this path.
You let yourself feel the depth
of need surrounding you.
You kept a purity of focus.
You always, always chose love.
All with bravery and trust.
I need you, Jesus, to walk
beside me now,
helping me reflect,
This Lenten path puts before me
the questions and realizations
I so often stuff away.
With each step, I’m recognizing
barriers built through my
rote habits and unrealized prejudices,
my base-line grudges and routine neglects…
I must acknowledge compromises
that drew me further away
from my own soul and your calling.
But I’m coming back home.
Hone my desires to that
pure focus you held.
Help me fast from self-absorption,
finding my sustenance in the
rich profundity of suffering-love.
Draw my heart and feet forward
on this path that’s both total mystery
and innate to who I am in you.
A minor melody marks our cadence,
yet you tune my ears for more than that.
Resurrection is always the final number.
Help me walk, Savior Lord,
with hope amid heaviness,
ears to the ground.
I will welcome my mortality
and the potential in ashes and dust.
Psalm 51:17 * Isaiah 53:4-6 * Luke 9:23-24
“If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up
their cross daily and follow me…” Luke 9:23
Something that nourished me recently…
It’s been many weeks since I last shared a Monday Manna so I have a whole potpourri here…
Most recently, a family adventure to San Diego. The zoo was especially a highlight. Also, finding sand dollars on Coronado Beach.
And then, to continue the art theme… There was many an afternoon last year when I would pick up my middle son from preschool and it would just be he and I while his baby brother napped and his older sister was at school. We started water color painting together many afternoons. The other kids also did a piece or two. I was trying to decide if and whether to do anything with the piled collection, and after much trial and error, we collaged them onto canvases. Simon’s favorite thing to paint was rainbows, over and over again. And I can’t think of a better symbol of hope right now than that.
I just recently learned about prayer plants! My son and I went to a local nursery to pick one out. They are known and named for the way they fold their leaves up toward the sky each evening, as though in prayer. I keep mine right by the chair where I spent most of my time when I broke my ankle and foot years ago. It’s become a favorite reading, writing, and praying spot.
Ash & Starlight, plus other good things….
* Find Ash and Starlight here.
* I was so grateful to have the opportunity to write the book discussion guide for Hope: A User’s Manual. The guide is meant for groups, and would work well for Lent! In each section, I’ve included a prayer, discussion questions, a take-it-with-you portion, and a benediction. Find the guide here.
* I meant to send this out at the beginning of the month, but the 28 Days of Black History Daily Emails for Black History Month has been so meaningful to me. And do not worry! When you subscribe, they have the full archive available so you can read all the emails which have come out so far. The emails take five minutes to read. Each one has a three things, from the organizers —
- A cultural artifact – book, movie, artwork, song, etc – that represents the impact of Black people and culture in U.S. history
- Action steps to carry this work into tomorrow – whether it’s donating to an organization, getting involved in your community, or more.
- Discussion questions to drive conversation and learning with your colleagues, students, friends and family.”
Sign up here!
* Lastly, a prayer for our hurting world as we carry the people of Syria and Turkey in our hearts, and also remember the Russian invasion of Ukraine one year ago. “When I Cry for the World,” from Ash and Starlight. And if you are still looking for places to donate, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Together Rising are two reliable places I trust.
Let’s open our arms to the transformative journey and what we will learn (from unexpected places). With you on the pilgrimage, friends.
Love and Light,