Each year, thousands of people give something up for Lent. Traditionally, a devout Christian would make a token sacrifice to commemorate the time Jesus spent in the desert before entering Jerusalem. By the Twentieth Century, most Protestant denominations had relinquished the practice. Many Catholics saw Lent as a time one gave up red meat one day of the week, eating fish on Friday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. While these meatless days are yet a practice of Lent, the depth of meaning behind the original purpose has been lost for many.
Somewhere along the line, some mainline Protestants rediscovered Lent. They have taken the time from Ash Wednesday to Easter to make a “sacrifice” and take time to reflect on their lives. There are some who take Lent very seriously. These devout believers consider whatever they have given up to be a true sacrifice and the 40 days of Lent to be a time of internal reflection and reassessment of values. However, for many Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, it seems as though the “giving up” for Lent is a chance to relinquish things that have been hard to give up otherwise. For instance, someone might give up soda, coffee, or perhaps sugar. These are things people choose to “give up” because they have wanted to give them up but have little willpower. They need the impetus of Lent to give them strength to do so. I am certain that I’ve been guilty of this myself. Is this sacrifice? Or is this self-serving?
I never considered giving something up for Lent this year. When I realized this, I couldn’t exactly figure out why. It occurred to me that I couldn’t think of anything to give up. What could I give up that would constitute sacrifice? What did I have that could be a real gift to God? More importantly, perhaps, what was I willing to give up that would be a fitting reflection of the life of Christ? There was nothing. Nothing that I was willing to give from my life was equal to the kind of sacrifice Jesus made during his 40 days in the desert. Nothing I was able to give was even a faint reflection of the sacrifice he made because he lived a life of true love.
It’s funny how you can be thinking about one thing and then suddenly realize you’ve moved on to something that seems to be totally unrelated. At some point in my reflections, I shifted from considering the nature of Lenten “sacrifice” to what was happening with St. Brigid in the Desert. I had begun to think that in order for St. Brigid to become a “real” church, I should find a way to meet every Sunday, bring people to a place where we had regular weekly worship. Oh, the liturgy would be unique, but it would be more like what people expect “church” to be. I had no idea how I could swing a place to meet like that. Our house isn’t appropriate and very few existing Christian churches would be willing to even rent space to a church with UAC values, let alone donate that space. I certainly don’t have the funds to put up rent anyway. These plodding thoughts were bringing me down. They were stressing me out. How can I be a priest/pastor/whatever-you-call-it if I don’t have an actual church to go to every week? When would I find time to do all this? I was beginning to feel inadequate. I was failing God. I was failing the good clergy of the UAC who took me in, flew me to Milwaukee, and lovingly ordained me.
These thoughts went on for days – maybe weeks – and then I read a comment by poet Rose Aiello Morales. "Spring is the best time to break stagnant molds,” she wrote. This simple thought brought all my crazies squealing to a halt! It seems so non sequitur, I know. I can’t tell you how it follows; I can only say that it does. I realized that I had never been called to be a “regular” pastor of a “regular” church! Wasn’t it, after all, a call to be a new kind of church, the kind where the lines are fuzzy, where Wiccans who love Jesus and Christians who love the Goddess can mingle and find hope? Isn’t it, after all, a call to break through boundaries and provide Life Event Celebrations and Rites for those who straddle traditional boundaries? Wasn’t the plan to have worship celebrations in conjunction with the Celtic Wheel of the Year and to serve in different ways as Spirit led?
Why yes! Yes it was! I had taken what can only be described as a unique, joy-filled, Spirit-led, creative call from the Divine to be someone who has hardly existed before and turned it into an unimaginative chore. I had become that nasty lime gelatin with clumps of shredded carrot poured into a fish shaped mold that people bring to church basement potlucks. Well, time to break that mold! It was time for me to remember what God has called me to be and re-mold myself into that person – into that priest. What better time than Lent to let go of the old ideas that were stuck to me like barnacles on an old whale? What better time to remember that Jesus told his disciples to “make disciples,” not to “make Christians?”
In the past few days, I have been inspired by two very different Christian leaders. Just yesterday, Christian/Buddhist priest Fr. Scott Elliot of New Seeds Priory, wrote on Facebook, "I didn't become a priest so I could have an executive salary and a professional status; I became a priest so I could learn humility, service, and vulnerability; and to share with others what I learn on the way." This morning, Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith, a news making United Methodist pastor who chose to be appointed to live and minister among the homeless for a number of years writes, “I pray we continuously seek to be empowered by the resurrection of Jesus in a way that lures us -- and even breaks through that temperate and often doubtful resistance of ours --to live into the hope of transformative peace, justice and love for ourselves and our neighbors.”
As Easter dawns, and thousands shout “He is Risen! He is Risen INDEED!” my heart rises anew. Resurrection has many meanings, and for me, this Lenten season has been a time of dying to old ideas about what it is to a priest of God and even what it means to be “church.” It has been a time for ideas that have been small seeds within me to sprout anew, to begin to take hold. In those seeds are the sprouts of history. In those seeds are the sparks of new life and the very essence of All That Is.
Many years ago, Starhawk wrote, “In the Craft, we do not believe in the Goddess — we connect with her; through the moon, the stars, the ocean, the earth, through trees, animals, through other human beings, through ourselves. She is here. She is within us all.”*
Indeed, God/Goddess is not something to “believe in.” The Divine is that which creates us, connects us, inspires us. What is something to believe in is a way of living, a way of giving, and a way of loving. This Lenten season, I have begun to understand what that means to me. As this Easter dawns, I witness a new birth within myself. I am becoming a person who no longer fears breaking the old molds and becoming something new.
So Be It!
*The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess,1979.