I am writing this on the day before Lent begins. This is a season that I have learned has much more meaning for me when I focus on expansive practices rather than restrictive practices. For the last decade I have committed to adding practices during Lent that expand my spirit and enrich my faith, rather than restricting what I do in search of more discipline and penitence. I wonder if this approach is more meaningful for me because in my community, vast generational experiences of restriction, silencing and limitation still weigh heavily on us.
When most days are an exercise in being ignored or diminished, when most public spaces expect your silence, as is the case for many people of color, then adding silence in the context of worship may feel like nothing more than the injustice of society, seeping down through the steeple. For those who every day go without, sacrifice is not a spiritual attribute that needs honed. Likewise, my worshiping community does not give up our hallelujahs* during this season, as for generations lament has been perennial among African Americans, and has given birth to rich theological groundings for a hallelujah anyhow or the witness of praise even amidst lament.
The introspection of this season yearly seems to reveal that my spirit needs more meditation and more practice with moving through limitations that are unholy, than it does with limiting in order to find what is holy. All of this represents learnings formed in me while feeling a little disoriented before the widely-practiced traditions of the Lenten season, as friends and mentors walked me through practices that were not centered on our experience, letting the strangeness lead us to new ways.
Now before this starts to read too much like a journal entry, I share this to say we get into some of our worst tangles about ‘how things ought to be’ around these shared holy days. There is a right way (which implies a wrong way) to do Lent, I have often been told, often by other church folks and sometimes even by my own inner voice. But no wilderness journey I’ve read in the Bible begins with so much self-assurance, and good thing too, lest the heroes of our faith be trapped in their own expectations and answers and miss an encounter with the wild Spirit of God.
But what would it be like if our Lenten practices this year took shape around letting ourselves be knocked off center a little bit? Pursuing the spiritual discipline of knowing ours is not the only way to experience faith; letting ourselves be broken open to make space for something new. The wilderness is nothing if not a little disorienting; and on a wilderness journey like that there are many Lenten practices one might take up:
practicing the hospitality needed to building relationship across difference
investing in a relationship with someone from a different race, orientation, geography than you
developing the discipline of deep, active listening
meditating on not being at the center of things
pursuing the wisdom of theology and ministry models from other cultural perspectives
doing things differently, experimenting, trying something new as a discipline
Just to name a few. Lent is the season in the church in which we attempt to be in solidarity with Jesus’ wilderness journey. If we’re doing what we’ve always done, moving with comfort through familiar rituals, are we really in the wilderness?
Do not be afraid, you don’t have to do it alone. As I continue to meet people across our synod, I am more convinced than ever that you have excellent journeying partners, siblings across our congregations and presbyteries who know how to journey in the unknown, whom you can lean on when you feel a little upended by a holy decentering. Of course, there are also your neighbors outside the church, some of the best journeying partners when you enter a space of wondering and questioning, are those who don’t have a stake in having to know all the answers.
So, I hope for you a slight stumble this season as you walk the familiar roads of Lent. I pray for a little disruption, a disorienting, that you might lose the path for a bit to find a new one. May we choose to go the way of Jesus, into the wilderness, vulnerable and expanding and relying on God. The God of the wilderness waits to guide us into something new, may we find each other out on the road.
*A tradition practiced in many congregations in the Reformed Tradition in the US, is to “bury the hallelujahs” or to refrain from singing or saying “Hallelujah” throughout the season of Lent bringing them back to the liturgy with gusto on Easter morning.
Rev. Lindsey Anderson
Organizer of Synod Communities of Color
248-729-2415 ext. 6