Friday, February 20, 2015

Back to the Start: Dusting off the Invitation to a Holy Lent

Abandon.  Accelerate.  Dust.  These are both similar and dissimilar.  Abandon suggests giving up.  Accelerate suggests conquering.  You can leave something in the dust, you can wipe the dust off your feet and walk away to a new mission.  You can increase your speed and leave whatever else it was in the dust.  There is a unity in these ideas: being elsewhere than where you were before.  Your old anxieties, maybe you conquer them, maybe you abandon them, and regardless it seems as if they are there no longer.  Let it go.  Call it dust.

Sin burning station
On Ash Wednesday, I was an onlooker to chatter about the discordance between the text of the Ash Wednesday liturgy (BCP1979) and the assigned readings for the day.  I have to admit that this provokes me less than the lack of emotional and formational flow.  For years I have imagined it was put together like a group project.  Two or more academic theologians threw it together without ever walking through it. Liturgy by committee, one hand of utter depravity, covered in a glove of returning to prayer and humility.  I could go read up on the history of the liturgy, but I will let my favorite experts contribute those details below.  

It seems to me that there is a huge difference between depravity and humility.  Maybe one of the reasons for the popularity of Ashes to Go is that is skips this troubled mixtape with rather basic symbolism and prayer.  We need both the humility and the acknowledgement of our wretchedness, yet it is worth asking if separating them out would assist in the nurturing we seek to offer.  My youth group describes Tenebrae as death metal without the guitars, perhaps that holds a clue. 

One of the true advantages of regularly retooling liturgies for young people and families is that I feel free to adjust the ridiculous volume of college reading level words, and I can try to make it flow consequentially.  We dwell in the mystery of the sacramental, yet those inner truths of the heart need not be forever in search of a dictionary. If the tween doesn’t know what we are saying, then rest assured he is not alone.   We could certainly have an argument about the quid pro quo of listing sins before imposing ashes.  Yet if the love of God and forgiveness of sins known in Christ is eternal, then could we begin with a chance to consider on our sins through the liturgy before we impose the outward sign of this acknowledgement? Is the hint in Ashes to Go the part where you get the ashes and then you go?

What if we were to go back to the beginning? What if the pages in the prayer book suddenly evaporated into dust?  What would the liturgy look like that is an invitation to a Holy Lent?  What prism do we use to gather hearts and minds toward the cross and Easter?  Is this first step about our dustiness, about how everything we are and have and do belongs to God?  Is it a healthy reminder of our own dustiness, that life has boundaries and this is the natural order of the universe?  Is it that we promised to follow Jesus in word and deed and that we regularly bear no resemblance to that promise?  Is the goal 40 some days in the future, where we find ourselves in re-union with our promises of baptism? 

That free hand I have with liturgies for young people, it took a new direction this year.  Open format interactive prayer stations.  First a video loop including an introduction to Ash Wednesday, a call to service and an illustrated scripture.  Then a short and easy reading level litany with a weaving activity.  Followed by a scripture lesson that uses illustrated pages that must be matched up.  In the middle of the room a writing and burning of sins.  Besides which is an Ashes-to-Go station.   I set them up in that order, yet I expected folks to move around freely.  Our guests did not roam, they chose freely and followed the circle from invitation to scripture to litany to sins to ashes.  This makes formational and theological sense to me.  What would the best theological and developmental flow of the beginning of a Holy Lent look like to you?

I started off this post stating that I hadn’t thought much about the discord with the readings.  Except that with my free hand I didn’t even consider the assigned lessons.  I chose instead the Ecclesiastes 3 lesson that is an option  at funerals.  At least one participant remembered that.  In a funeral we use it to celebrate eternal life.   I chose it to invite the guests to think about the time we are entering and how it is a time to consider the horrors and problems and wrongness that is connected in a dialogical rhythm with the delight of eternal life.  The other lesson was an illustration of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert.  I realize it is the lesson for the following Sunday, but if we are inviting people to a holy Lent, to considering the temptations and uses of privilege, then maybe starting with the lesson about just that is worth considering.   What lessons would you choose to open the journey of Lent?  Is it Ruth?  What about Job?  The groaning in eager expectation of Romans?  The parable of the Great Pearl? 

There is true value in a clunky unfocused Ash Wednesday liturgy.  One that is just as confused and jumbled as we are.  Leaving it as it is may be the path of least resistance.  However, I am a Lent enthusiast.  I want as many of the people who seek union with God in Christ to experience the journey of Lent.  Which leads me to my last and perhaps most renegade question on the matter: is one day enough?  Would any of you refuse the imposition of Ashes to someone who came in the door on Friday morning?  If we can take this outward sign to the streets, can we expand the start time as a pastoral gift to busy schedules and harried lives? 

What wonderings about liturgy and formation and pastoral care did this week bring for you?  
Where do you find unity and pleasurable discord?  
What would you like to leave in the dust as we strive to form disciples?

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