Lent has been interesting this year. I did a number of things different. First off I decided that I would try to be happy and not morose. It seemed to have worked, with few exceptions my mood has definitely been better.
This year I decided to be less concerned with the physical and dietary aspects of Lent. I actually needed to do this this year. Physically and emotionally I was not as good off as I have been in years past. As far as Lent was concerned, I had become a slave to the season. Lent had become something to be endured, not enjoyed. Where in the past I would have done things out of a legalistic mindset and obeyed simply because it was written, I did not this year. This meant I occasionally got a bit of meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. But again, this was not because I was simply defying the rules, I can do that well if I need to, after all I’m a Myers Briggs INTJ, rules need not always apply if they are not helpful. But I had to do this now, because I had, like the Pharisees before me put the observance of the rules higher than my relationship with Jesus.
Spiritually, because of my emotional state I decided to let go of the daily office for Lent, and Lent only. I will be going back to it on Easter Sunday. What had happened was that in my rigid adherence to doing it I was grinding myself down to spiritual dust. I was not reflecting on the Gospels or other readings, I was just doing them. I was spiritually exhausted. Prayer was becoming forced and rote. I knew that if I continued in this manner I would not be any good for anyone. Instead of this I simply began to pray on my way to work, and my way home and when I went to bed. I never prayed for me except in regard to being able to care for others. Sometimes an Our Father, or a Hail Mary, maybe a recitation of a couple of decades of the Rosary, maybe extemporaneous intercessions for people that I know. Sometimes just a simple thank you to God, after all She does deserve to be thanked at least once in a while.
As far as prayer goes and seeing answers, I guess I am a bad fit in a “Charismatic” church. I believe that God can heal people. But there were many times early in my hospital ministry that most of the people that I prayed for died. Talk about having a complex….When I was asked if I would pray for someone I would hesitate. I would sometimes want to ask “Are you really sure that you want me to do this?” Today, working in ICUs and critical care I approach prayer from a glass half-empty or there is something wrong with the glass point of view. I am not a Pollyanna type of person. Somewhat jaded, I can be like the Chaplain version of House MD. Yet at the same time I’ve been surprised by Her grace during this Lent. Things that jaded ICU attending physicians and I but can only chalk up to something really unusual. Possibly even miraculous and maybe even done by the Deity Herself. Thus this Lenten season has been marked with spiritual surprises.
Instead of beating myself to death to observe rules that were forced on us when it became easy to be a Christian following Constantine (See an earlier Lenten post here), this Lent I decided the Lent let the Deity work Her grace in me. I decided to get out more and take part more in the life of a local parish. This has been hard since we moved here. I travelled a lot in connection with my assignments and after Iraq I got really wierd about being in crowds of people and really sensitive to noise and light. My wife belongs to a really cool Roman Catholic parish near us, but since Iraq it is just too much for me. It is big and like I said, large crowds of people that I don’t know, often unfamiliar worship music and too much exposure to noise and light really get to me. That’s the damned thing about PTSD, it makes simple stuff hard. I used to go to mega-churches, and now the bigger the church the scarier for me. So I met a wonderful Episcopal Priest, Fr John, over at the hospital who is the Rector of Saint James Church in Portsmouth. We became friends. He invited me and I decided to to crawl out of my protective shell that I have lived inside spiritually since Iraq. The Church is historic, it is the African American church, many of the parishioners had ancestors that were slaves, or who were themselves part of the civil rights movement. Many are prominent in the life of the city. These folks love Jesus and a lot are connected in some way with the military. The church itself is not large, but is caring and involved in the life of the community. The Gospel is proclaimed in word and deed. Since my small denomination has nothing anywhere near me, this has become my local home and I hope to grow in community with these wonderful people of God over the coming years.
Today of course was Passion Sunday. We began with the Liturgy of the Palms outside the church and moved inside singing as we went. There is nothing like a “high church” primarily African American Episcopal choir that can do both traditional and majestic hymns as well as spirituals and Gospel. We followed with the Liturgy of the Passion followed by Eucharist. The service cemented some things that God has been doing in me since I came back from Iraq, and what God has been working in me this season.
I hope that as I celebrate Maunday Thursday and Good Friday services at the Medical Center that God will continue that work in me, and hopefully in some way touch others with Her grace. For once I am really looking forward with anticipation to Holy Week, for I am not alone.