Thursday, March 02, 2006

Fade to Grace

Forgive the cheesy title. John and I went to Ash Wednesday services at our church last night. Pastor Mike talked about it as “Freedom Day.” I wasn’t raised with this front bookend of the Easter season. When I was young, Southern Baptists popped right into Easter like one of those plastic chickens attached to a spring and two suction cups.

I suppose the “giving up” associated with Lent could have struck some Baptists as looking a little too much like salvation through works, who knows? Anyway, Baptists are great storytellers and not as big on ceremony ritual* as some of the other mainline denominations. Instead, I remember the Bible stories around Easter being told in big ways like musicals I’ve mentioned in the past. I don’t undervalue the Broadway proclivities of the church I grew up in. They had a profound impact on me.

In any case, what I value about Lenten rituals at this stage of my life is the slow and steady focus on Christ’s grace. After 29 years of following Christ I still feel like I’m learning about this key part of my faith. You know how when you are learning a big new concept or activity, like knitting or how to run a marathon or throw a ceramic pot or string theory—you know who you are—it takes time and attention and practice, thought and rethought before you really know how to do that. That is what the Lenten season provides for me, a slow dawning of grace, and subsequently freedom as Pastor Mike said. Like the earth, I turn toward the always present sun and the light illuminates the dark parts of me. (I guess when we get to heaven the sun goes all around us, or through us? Or do the planets flatten out? It's just a metaphor, Troy, let it go.)

It isn’t that I’m not swimming in grace 24/7. I believe that’s why Jesus came in the first place. It’s like the “matrix”—all around me, but I don’t always have the eyes to see it. Sometimes my earth slows down or stops turning (wait, did I just say I was a planet, when did this metaphor become so unflattering). Lent is like an annual refresher course in how to see grace and share it. And the more I see it and act like I see it, the more freedom I walk in. And the more my heart, which is often harder than I like to admit, softens for those who for whatever reason are blind to it.

(*Ritual had negative connotations in my childhood church. There seemed to be an underlying fear that what we were doing in worship could become rote and meaningless if it became ritualized. I’ve since come to believe that ritual is meaningful structure and it exists in all churches. In a Methodist church the ritual structure may be more permanent like architecture. In a Southern Baptist church the ritual structure may be more changeable, like interior design. In any case, I wonder if whether or not any ritual becomes meaningless doesn’t depend more on the heart and mind of the worshiper than it does the ritual.)


Anonymous Marc McAleavey said...

Great reflection, Troy! It helped me organize some of my own thoughts about last night's service and the season of lent. It was the first Lent service I've attended for several years and Mike's message of freedom was so fresh for me (even though it is such a constant and historic theme for our faith). Anyway...thanks for your thoughts!

9:42 AM  
Blogger Troy said...

You're welcome Marc. Glad to have you reading. BTW, knowing that you, a real writer, is reading my blog made me go back and clean up the sentence structure a little after you posted. My friend Jennie (JEM) is my spell-check tool. I'll have to work not to become too self-conscious.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous kara said...

I love the liturgical seasons in the church year, especially Lent and Advent. This is the first time in many years I haven't 'given up' something for Lent, but after reading an article on the website urging us to 'take on a cause', I've decided to go that route this year.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Troy said...

Marc, I just noticed I wrote "you is reading" rather than "you are reading" in my last comment. Dang!!

Kara, giving up, taking on--I can totally see how both might be graceful lightposts. Thanks in advance for what you end up contributing to your cause--as you do to the least of these, you do also to me, Jesus said.

1:23 PM  
Blogger goodwitch said...

Thanks for the inspiration Spiderman! I swear...the grace of christ is like an aura around you...I feel it everytime I get a chance to be in the same room with you...or whenever you make me think.

Hugs and I hope you find a really good reason to come see us in Austin soon!!!

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Marc McAleavey said...

Excuse me Troy, I speak is alright!


3:59 AM  

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