The following was written for our church e-newsletter, a reflection on my own Lenten practice, and how it has coincided and interacted with our pastor's sabbatical:
I'm sitting at my desk, indulging in a snack of raisins and pretzels....a Lenten practice of sorts. Since giving up all sugar for Lent, I'm astonished to discover sweetness in forgotten places: raisins certainly, but also bananas, a honey-based cereal I enjoy each morning, and even in the flavors of certain teas and coffees.
Despite being the child of a pastor, my growing up home was not a place where we typically "gave something up for Lent." We were more likely to take on an extra act of love or kindness, and even that was more my parents' effort than mine. So why now, as an adult, do I fast on Ash Wednesday, and deliberately choose a gesture of self-sacrifice as I walk my way toward Easter?
Somehow, in creating an experience of emptiness or absence, I discover new ways of being filled.
When fasting with spiritual intention, I discover that hunger doesn't overwhelm me. There are layers to that hunger, and as my body passes through each layer into the next, I contemplate longing and desire and connection and satiation. I couldn't explore these places without first clearing space for a short time and creating a purposeful emptiness. While the first few days without sugar sometimes left me gazing longingly at the tray of treats during coffee hour, I am now at a place where I appreciate the new tastes that spring forth from foods and flavors I had previously not regarded as sweet. I am not so much sacrificing as I am discovering anew.
Our senior pastor's absence from us, while not fully correlated with Lent, has been its own spiritual practice for us as a congregation. Who has stepped forward to fill us? Our new associate pastor's capable leadership certainly comes to mind, along with all of the visiting speakers, member pastors, and lay leaders who presided over worship and provided pastoral care. What empty places felt sharp and evident at first, but now barely noticeable? How have we learned to be self-sustaining?
Easter Sunday will come, and I'll face a choice--whether to continue my practice of "giving up," or to try to remember the lessons learned while indulging once again. It's a decision I have yet to make, but one I will make with intention. Our pastor will soon return. How will we exercise new strengths discovered in his absence? How will we cling to the discovery of new tastes and talents, even as we delight in his presence with us once again?
One primary lesson is evident to me: God provides. We have in our community all that we need, an abundance to be shared. I look forward to seeing how we reconnect with intention, and together discover once more the glories of Easter and the promise of the resurrection.