Lenten letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

I love this time of year!
Palms. Passion. Pentecost.
The autumning of the earth as the temperature cools. 
Leaves donning their gold and orange colours.
Kevin baking his famous chocolate pudding for dessert.
Darkness deepening, lengthening,
inviting us to slow down and rest. 

It is, for many, a time of anticipation – an all-around-us reminder of the turning and re-turning rhythms written into our world by our Creator. Tess Ward, in her prayer book The Celtic Wheel of the Year, offers this profound praise to be offered on rising and resting in these autumn days:

Blessed be you Balance-Holder,
unafraid of the dark from which all newness must begin,
giver of light that draws us on and out into fullness.

(On rising)Help me to balance my need for outgoing
and restoring this day.

(Before resting)With thankfulness for my going out,
restore to me my rest this night.

The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32) is the focus of our worship in this fourth week of Lent. It is a story of turning and re-turning; of a young man cutting ties with his family to seek adventure and pleasure and independence but finding himself full of loneliness and longing for that same family when times are hard and work is undignified and unrewarding and friends are fickle. Finally, when he is able to overcome his pride, his feet follow his heart which has turned towards the warm memories of home. He returns to his father’s embrace – and his older brother’s angry face. 

“It’s not fair!” is the anguished cry of the good and faithful son who had stayed behind to work the land with his father and restore their fortunes for little recognition or reward. And there he stands – outside his home, arms crossed in wounded indignation, denying himself the opportunity to share in the joyous feasting that is taking place just a few feet away. The son who had gone out is now restored. But what about the son who had stayed? 

Palms. Passion. Pentecost. Autumn. Turning and re-turning. Dark and Light. Going out and restoring. These are the rhythms written into our world, our life, our church by our Creator, or – as Tess Ward names God in her prayer, Balance-Holder.

I wonder how often we miss out on real joy
~ because we refuse to move and sway to these divine rhythms,
~ because going out seems risky and uncomfortable,
~ because we’re fiercely protecting what is ours,
~ because we want things to stay exactly the same.

May this week bring you opportunities to perceive God in motion and the courage to come to life in big and small ways as the Balance-Holder draws us on and out into the fullness of life together. 

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne 

From Advent to Epiphany

For many, Christmas has – at best – a tenuous connection to the Christ child.

Some Christians refuse to celebrate the season because of the pagan practices that have influenced it and/or its historical inaccuracy. Others really struggle with how to keep the season centred around the coming of Immanuel in the midst of our frenetic, consumer-driver world in which the perfect present is more important than our simple presence.

Yet I am amazed each year at how, in spite of declining membership in most parts of the world, churches fill up on Christmas Day with people for whom hearing the remarkable story of God entering into our life in the vulnerable form of a baby boy is an essential part of their family tradition.

It’s a special time; a moving story about the unimaginable love that God has for the world finding expression in the the fragile relationship between a young virgin and a carpenter who are far away from the support and shelter of home in the days before a miracle is birthed – all under the threat of a jealous king who will do anything to solidify his power.

It’s a story best understood in the context of those dangerous times, and within the seasons of Advent and Epiphany in which we express our commitment as Christians to watch and to wait for the Coming King in the midst of our own struggles and difficulties.

When the mountains tremble is a contemplative journey through this season which seeks to open our eyes to the power and presence of God – not in spite of the trouble and the tumult all around us, but in the very midst of it.

Based on the daily readings from the Revised Common Lectionary which we often shy away from (who doesn’t prefer stories of bemused shepherds and worshipping angels to warnings of judgement and destruction?), each day offers the invitation to remember where we’ve come from, give voice to how we’re really feeling, wrestle with some of the deep questions we may not often ask, and wonder with God about where we’re headed.

Some weeks – the first in particular – are more cognitive; while others are more experiential. Some are structured around becoming still; others around getting moving in a particular way. Some of the meditations may feel incomplete and will be returned to in a new way a little further on in the journey, while those left open may be the beginning of a new journey of wonder for you entirely.

It would be helpful to keep a journal over this time; not so much to record the answer to every question you may encounter in the readings (which is not at all necessary), but to jot down a summary of each day’s experience or a particular line or verse that stood out for you, to write out a prayer response to God, to return to your own questions and wonderings as the old year makes way for the new.

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May the One for Whom we Wait
bring us rest and restoration
in what is so often a worn and wearying season
and open our eyes to the signs of His-Her Presence with us,
always and in all things.

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne