Return to the Lord your God. Return to community. Return to yourself.
We are so deeply disconnected. In spite of these magic boxes we carry with us that keep us up to date on all of the things, we are left feeling isolated and alone. We are disconnected from ourselves, from our very bodies, from one another, and from God. Our rates of depression and anxiety are climbing ever higher, especially among the generations that were raised with these little (theoretical) connection machines.
This is because, we crave connection. As Brene Brown writes, we are built for it: connection with self, connection with others and connection with God. This is how God made us. God made us for relationship.
Yet so much of what we do as church doesn’t do much to genuinely connect us with much of anything. Within our churches, with our beautiful rites, shared values (again, theoretical) and potential instant community loneliness is alive and well. Perhaps this is because we perform faith instead of living it, keeping ourselves and others from connection and belonging. We say the “right” prayers, do the “right” rituals, hell, many of us practice the rite of communion and yet we lack community. Perhaps this is because we have been taught to bring out best selves to church, which for most of us turns out to be our fake selves. The selves that are great! Just fine, thank you! The selves that know all of the right words to say to keep others at arms length and never let on that we are all fucked up inside. We have created communities where we teach people to fit in instead of creating space where people -- all people -- can truly belong.
Perhaps this is what Jesus is talking about when he says to not pray in public, to not show how hard our fasting really is, to not celebrate or bemoan the works of our faith in front of others. Like the prophet Isaiah before him, Jesus is telling us to not merely perform faith, but to live it. He is encouraging us to real faith practice, to real community, to truly engage in these things that bring us into relationship with God, ourselves, and one another.
Somehow our lenten practice of repentance has turned into self-punishment disguised as self-betterment. We give up chocolate, soda, and other things we love and turn lent into a way to diet or give up “bad” habits and do this completely divorced from any sort of self-reflection or reconnection to self, God or our neighbor. We have made dieting religious, and encourage shame and unhealthy views of the body which is the OPPOSITE of or the point of penitence. Penitence is asking for forgiveness and, through that, having our relationships restored. Repentance is about reconnection.
Can our Lenten practice be reconnection? Isn’t that the goal of repentance, to turn away from the things that keep us from God? Can we commit to a radical change in which we bring our full selves to church? To the foot of the cross? Can we spend 40 days sitting in quiet meditation, facing our shit so that we can work on it and heal the wounds that we take out on others because we refuse to admit they are there? So much of the hate and anger that shouts so loudly in our world today is the result of fear and wounds that we don’t want to look at because it hurts too much. Instead, we lash out at those around us who we perceive to be the cause of our fear and pain, hurting other because the pain inside of us is deep and real and has nowhere to go but out. Can we re-learn how to hear God speaking to us through the white noise of everyday life? Can we commit to learning how to recognize that God lives within us, that we are beautiful, beloved children of God and so is everyone else?
Each Lent, I ask myself and my students, “What is getting in the way of your relationship with God, self or neighbor?” Fast from that. Get rid of that in your life. Take up a practice that reconnects you with the love of God. Give up negative self talk, give up gossip, give up that need to show up “perfect” everywhere you go. Let go of the need to be “fine” and live your truth. Show up to church as the beautiful, beloved hot mess you are and create space for others to do the same. Look inside yourself at the ugly parts -- the racism, sexism, homophobia, prejudice, anger, pain and fear that fester and work towards healing yourself and the world. Pick up books or subscribe to podcasts that introduce you to stories that are wildly different from your own. Engage scripture. Engage your heart. Swim in the depths of God’s love and let it break you so, with the help of Jesus Christ and your neighbors you can put yourself back together again. Go to therapy. Practice radical self-love.
That’s the kind of Lent that God asks for. That’s the kind of Lent that will bring about true healing and work towards the kindom we were designed for.
The blog space is where we'll cover things: why we're using a specific focus during a season, to discuss liturgy, and random things that don't quite fit elsewhere.