This past Sunday, I attended a Valentine’s ladies lunch for women in our church. During an icebreaker game, we were asked to name our favorite chocolate dessert and one thing from this past year for which we were thankful.
It didn’t take me too long for either one. I like most things chocolate, but the darker it is, the more I like it. Honestly, a good 78% cocoa bar is about as good as it gets. I am not complicated. (She says as she peruses chocolate mousse recipes…)
And the thing for which I am most thankful? This.
In the course of my life he broke my strength;
he cut short my days.
So I said:
“Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations.
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
Psalm 102: 23-27
A year ago, I was living in Kenya and planned to live there for the foreseeable future. I had lived with a grand total of 8 different women in the past six months, in three different homes. (This included three roommates I had left behind in the US and five different doctors in Kenya, most of whom were only visiting Tenwek for a few weeks or months at a time.) I loved all of them, but adapting to a new roomie every few weeks (or months) is hardly a stable lifestyle.
Today, I am living back in Kentucky, in a fourth home, and likely will never live in Kenya again. Instead, I am surviving winter (but just barely) and anticipating a move to Uganda by the end of the year, entering a new ministry with a new team, many of of whom I have never met.
Chances are, even if you have lived in the same country all your life and are not making plans to move, you, too, could make a pretty long list of things in your life that have changed drastically and unexpectedly this past year. And you do not have to read many news headlines to realize that the world and culture around us are changing at an ever-increasing speed.
So right now, the idea that we serve a God who is unchanging, who remains the same, who outlasts generations, who will not wear out like a garment, and whose years will never end, is the most beautiful thing in the world to me.
I have to admit that the unpredictability of the last few years has led me to a new appreciation for the liturgical calendar. I may be in a different country, a different home, eating different foods, interacting with different people, but in a few weeks, we will enter the season of Great Lent, something Christians have been doing for centuries upon centuries. There is something very reassuring about that. It reminds me in a very tangible way that there is a reality beyond this earthly life, beyond the capricious nature of governments and people.
Many have argued that liturgy and old rituals inhibit a “new” movement of the Holy Spirit and that by simply following calendars, motions, and styles of previous centuries, we run the risk of legalism and teaching salvation by works, rather than by active, living faith. We do run that risk, if we forget the meaning behind the traditions, but I love the idea that God spoke, and still speaks, through the liturgy.
In her book At the Corner of East and Now, Orthodox writer Frederica Mathewes-Green describes the traditions surrounding the preparation of Holy Communion and the symbolism involved, and then writes this:
“This is the kind of faith that took a beating under the Enlightenment, when man took the measure of God and found him amusing, but vague. Rationalism is now taking the beating, getting beaten to pieces, and a fragmentary curiosity is scenting the air: maybe something exists that we can’t see, maybe there is healing and reason to hope, maybe I should invest a buck in a guardian angel lapel pin. We don’t live in a coherent age. Walking through the culture is like walking through the surf after a battering storm, stepping through shards of insatiable consumerism, gaudy FunTime noise, self-indulgent weepiness, toilet humor, posturing nihilism. Things keep saying they’re important, but they turn out to be more loud than deep. Stepping around the shards of the shipwreck, we begin to wonder if anything might be important, anything might last or have meaning. Could bread mean a Body? Could wine mean Blood? Could a body broken and blood spilled two thousand years ago restore my own damaged life?
It is that simple, and yet the simplicity we gratefully embrace is only the shadow of a reality blasting beyond the boundaries of our comprehension. Father Gregory censes around the alter and concludes with a final prayer, recognizing the limitless mystery: ‘In the grave with the body, but in Hades with the soul, as God, in Paradise with the Thief, and on the Throne with the Father and the Spirit, wast thou, O Christ, filling all things, thyself uncircumscribed.'”
As we approach the Lenten season, I am grateful for things that last and have meaning, and for traditions that point to an enduring reality I don’t yet fully understand. And I pray that, however you choose to celebrate Lent, it leads you to a greater understanding of Easter.