We welcome back to the podcast, Rev. Dr. Susie Beil of Summit Ave Presbyterian Church and Deanna Gemmer, Director of Community Development and Engagement to talk about Lent.
We are currently in the church season of Lent.
Danielle names it has almost been a year since our lockdown began in Washington State and we’re still battling COVID. “We are still in the wilderness!”
Deanna agrees, it was about Mid-March when lockdown began last year which was about 2 or 3 weeks into the 2020 Lent season. She remembers a meme that was going around last year that still feels true today: “This is the lentiest lent we’ve ever lented.” It has in fact felt like one long year of Lent; a year of sorrow and hardship.
Susie says even visually for them as a liturgical church that celebrates the changing time of the year through colors, they had hung the purple banners in their church on Ash Wednesday and they were up until Advent (the lead up to Christmas) which is also marked with purple. And now the Lent banners are back up and feels like there is no ordinary time any more, only seasons of reflection and repentance. Visually if feels like they have been in Lent, a wilderness journey, for the whole year.
Lent comes from a Latin word that means lengthening, for the lengthening of days, Susie explains. She acknowledges that is true for the Northern Hemisphere at this time of the year which influences the Western Church. Historically, she says, this is a time when the food is scarce because it is the end of winter and the new crops have not yet grown. It was “a hungry season” and in the Middle Ages they decided to make it a “discipline,” or practice, which is why there is often times fasting (or going without) food. To deepen the spirituality, Susie continues, they connected it to the 40 days of Jesus in the wilderness.
Just a few centuries after Jesus, the early church decided to celebrate the life of Jesus every year by creating a church calendar. Beginning with Advent which is celebrating waiting for the arrival of Jesus’ birth, followed by the 12 days of Christmas celebrating His birth, epiphany the season of the three kings and Jesus’ baptism. Next comes the 40 days of Lent, Easter Season, “ordinary time” until Pentecost and Christ the King Sunday which is at the end of November and the whole cycle starts again.
Deanna adds that Lent is 40 days but the season is technically 46 days. The church historically takes Sundays off and treats them as mini-Easters, mini celebrations. For those who fast from something, Sundays are a day to indulge, feast and celebrate God’s goodness. “So it’s not all dark and dismal and minor keys,” Deanna assures us. She says Lent is “an invitation to journey with Jesus in the wilderness. An invitation to journey with Jesus towards that suffering place of the work that He did on the cross.” For her, this year has been particularly challenging but she has found that it is in these wilderness seasons that God does God’s best work in her life and draws her closer.
Deanna shares a story about a friend who has felt as if she has given up enough this year and no more is needed to “give up” for this Lent season. Instead, a modern look or alternative way to celebrate Lent is to focus on having new or different ways to engage God. Adding something OR taking something away are both practices people are doing as ways to participate in Lent. Deanna is reading through “40 Days Of Being an Enneagram 3” Book for Lent and journaling as a practice of self-awareness in this Lent season.
Susie recalls she had a seminary professor do a word study on “fast.” First there is fast as in doing without, like food fasting being a common practice during lent. But it also means to hold fast or hold tight. And then a third definition around the idea of to fasten, to be held close. She has the image of being held fast by God and to hold fast to God.
There is the opposites of feasting and fasting in Lent; when you go without something it builds a hunger in you. How does that physical hunger awaken a spiritual hunger for God? Susie asks.
Richard Foster, a Quaker Theologian and Writer, describes spiritual disciplines as putting yourself physically in a place for God to act. Fasting is one of those body practices.
Danielle was asked to write something upbeat and while she could do it she chose not to. She said she is just not yet ready to move out of the wilderness experience even though she wants to move out of it because there is still more space for hunger in her. Susie said it reminded her of the temptations of Jesus - wrestling with internal dialogue, but staying true.
Danielle said she feels like we just want to honor how much people have given up in this season; losses that we’ve never agreed to give up for a wilderness period. Susie names some of them are coping mechanisms during this covid time that aren’t actually helpful or healthy. For example Netflix binging.
Maggie says there are also places and space where we need to bless that comfort or distraction in this unbearable season. One of the greatest revelations that she has experienced personally in this covid season is a realization she used to live with an unhealthy desire for being productive and efficient. The new rhythm of life that covid afforded was jarring at first and yet Maggie now finds herself no longer with the desire to be a task master for herself, demanding productivity. As she prayerfully considered what engaging in Lent during this season would look like, she knew it wasn’t going to be “going hard” like in previous years. That instead, a drawing close or holding fast would look like reading small bits of a bible commentary, something totally different for her than in previous years.
Deanna says she loves the simplicity of that invitation, “What would draw you closer to God in this season?” It could be something as simple as the practice of joy, making it or noticing it.
Susie is reading “The Big and Small of God, 40 Short Daily Devotions On Natures Miracles” by Tonia Davidson and shared how cherry blossoms are not able to bear fruit without a dormant season. Susie says this speaks so much to us right now, that we have been in a dormant season for a year. What fruit can we bear out of this? She names that for Maggie it looks like a new fruit is coming out and that is to not being a task master for herself.
Danielle says that Susie’s book feels so in tune with the senses and that embodiment is such a draw to Jesus. Susies says, yes! “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Susie says while they have their personal journeys they are also engaging in congregational practices as a community. Deanna mentioned two things their church body is doing for lent: “Illustrated Ministry” a devotional with coloring, a space to slow down and reflect. Theme of treasures of the heart, where are they? The second is Labyrinth walking - over zoom. The importance of the physicality of movement and trusting the path it’s taking you where you need to go.
Maggie says another “silver lining” of covid has been the invitation to evaluate what is important, as individuals, as family units, communities and as a nation. We are in the process of forming in this wilderness time of covid and of lent and we need this time to bear fruit.
Susie says it is the Western Church, especially the protestant church, that see Lent as individual practice, and it is a great discipline. For her one of the most meaningful Lent and Easter experiences was at an Eastern Orthodox Church in New Jersey where they really do fast from food together as a community. No alcohol or animal products except for breaks on Wednesdays and Sundays. When they end their fast on Saturday night of Easter, it is was feast that lasts for hours into the middle of the night, a huge party. They fasted as a community, they feasted as a community. It was really meaningful to her.
Deanna’s kids have historically complained about the Good Friday service saying it’s sad, it’s quiet and that there are no other kids there. But her reply to them is that the feast is not as meaningful if you have not experienced the fast. You need to sit in the space of hunger and darkness.
Maggie adds, what good is it to show up to a feast if you’re not hungry?
Susie is Reading: Transcendent Kingdom Yaa Gyasi
Susie is listening to: Brene Brown’s “Unlocking Us” Podcast - Barak Obama and Joe Biden
Susie is inspired by: Her newly remodeled kitchen
Deanna is reading: Fiction Audio book “The Vanishing Half” , Non-fiction: The God Who Sees
Deanna is listening to: The Poetry UnBound Podcast, Semler’s “Preacher’s Kid” Album
Deanna is inspired by: People asking hard questions
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