We’ve all heard of “Christmas miracles.” Without them, the Hallmark television channel would be bereft of programming. Lenten miracles are a little more obscure. Yet, I am experiencing one.
In 2020, I proclaimed that Lenten season to be the “lentiest Lent that ever did lent.” Lent is about sacrificing to get closer to God. In my tradition, Lent has three components of sacrifice- fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. With the onset of the COVID pandemic, we all had ample opportunity to sacrifice. We gave up so many gifts we previously took for granted- hugs, visiting family and friends in person, going to the library, frequenting our favorite hot spots, accomplishing our work tasks conveniently and comfortably, breathing without sucking on face mask fabric, and many other of life’s little pleasures. Shortages of goods on grocery store shelves meant we were all pretty much fasting from something. As people tend to do when they see an obvious need, charitable giving increased. In desperate times, most people rallied to help others. And, as for prayer- well, we had ample opportunity and ample motivation.
This Lent, though, I feel like God has taken things to a whole new level. The difference is that the COVID-19 pandemic was a worldwide cataclysm that led to worldwide transformation. This year, the infection is individual and intimate. My personal cataclysm has been very hard to bear. Years of old pain and shame came to storm the castle of my very soul, wielding knives and pitchforks and serious intentions to destroy. Every molecule of my energy has gone into fighting off the attack. The battle has waxed and waned through the past weeks, but never ends.
When one is engaged in battle, one needs weapons. I have an effective arsenal, thanks to my life coach, Todd Payne. I told him my story at a pace that was challenging but tolerable (by tolerable, I mean a pace that was significantly beyond comfort level but did not inspire thoughts of jumping from a bridge.) He gave me tools to process and to cope. I use those tools as we agreed. I started asking for what I needed to manage my emotional energy during this time of warfare. I completed the writing assignments he gave me. I made sure to dance for 20-30 minutes a day. I began supplementing my daily meditation practice with short, anxiety relieving guided meditations when I began to feel the pitchforks getting dangerously close to piercing my soul. We prayed in a number of our sessions.
We agreed on another strategy. There were Sundays when I pronounced myself “unfit for human consumption” and did not go to church. I realized, though, that I always felt better when I did attend the service- both from a spiritual and a social sense. My God was at the service and so was my family of friends. I resolved that, during Lent, I would attend Sunday service AND the weekly healing service on Thursdays. I think I felt that I needed healing before I knew I needed healing. I decided to attend the Thursday service as a Lenten devotional because I thought it would be comforting in a difficult time and would remind me that God is always near me. I was not thinking so much about healing.
Now, we are Episcopalians. The term “healing service” tends to denote a more Pentecostal, charismatic vibe. Our healing service at my traditional, little Episcopal church looks a lot less dramatic. It is basically a sparsely attended informal gathering in the chapel that looks a lot like a “regular” Sunday worship liturgy. The only difference is that we do put an additional focus on praying for those who are suffering. Our pastor anoints us with oil and prays for healing in our lives. Just because the event does not APPEAR as dramatic as the more loud and overt healing services you see in the movies does not mean that what happens beneath the surface IS not dramatic, though. I have sat through several of these services now, with tears oozing out of my eyes. Those tears have been coming on a wave of pain and shame and healing and truth and acceptance. The tsunami of emotion is such a tangled mix of positive, negative, and confusion. It is hard to articulate. However, the biggest takeaway from the tears might be this- GOD DOES NOT WANT ME TO FEEL LIKE THIS!
As I worked through my sessions with Todd, it became more and more clear that events that occurred 40 years ago largely created the mess in my mind and the trainwreck in my heart. Those events created an infection within me that has caused me to live with such a distorted sense of myself. I tend not to even try to explain how I feel to other people because it is pretty incomprehensible. From the outside, I look functional and successful. Inside, life is much different. In reliving that time of my life 40 years ago, my pain became more focused, and the shame hailed down on my soul. I was engaged in mental, emotional, and spiritual warfare as I slogged my way through Lent this year.
Now, most people do see Lent largely as a time of sacrifice. In my Christian tradition, that focus on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are seen as signs of repentance during this pre-Easter season. If we look closer, I think we could see Lent as not simply a time for penance and sacrifice, but as a time for transformation. We should be crafting Lenten observances that help transform us into the people God wants us to be. I do not know if I intentionally did that this year, but both Todd and I believe that God thought it was more than time for my transformation.
One Sunday, late in Lent, something happened. I call it a miracle. Everything in the service and the Sunday school lesson that preceded it spoke to me in a very direct, very intimate way. The anthem the choir sang was Shepherd Me, O God, a hymn beseeching God to shepherd us beyond all our fears. I had 40 years of fear and shame whittling away at my soul. The epistle reading was from Ephesians, chapter 5. In that reading, St. Paul admonished that we should take no part in the unfruitful works of the darkness but expose them to become visible so that they will cease to cause darkness. I had just spent the past month or so working with Todd, revealing evil things that were hidden in the dark of my psyche. The Gospel was about Jesus healing the blind man by smearing his eyes with mud and sending him to the pool of Siloam to wash. God was opening my eyes to the truth of what happened. He was healing me of pain and shame. Our pastor’s sermon also mentioned that Jesus intentionally involved the blind man in his own healing. Jesus sent him to the pool of Siloam to rinse his eyes so that the healing would be manifest. I have participated. I have been on a long, painful, dredging up of feelings that I should have named and felt 40 years ago. In the dark, they have grown and multiplied and become even worse than they would have been if I had processed them at the appropriate time. Now, not only do I mourn the actual events of the time, but I also mourn the more joyful, more abundant, more grounded life that I could have been having during these 40 years of brokenness.
This Lent, as I prepare for Easter, I am rinsing my eyes in my personal God-created pool of Siloam. I am accepting that I am transformed. I do not understand why God waited 40 years to transform me. I don’t really care. I guess miracles don’t happen until one is ready for them to happen. I will not question God’s judgment about that.
You could argue that what I’ve experienced is not a supernatural event. You could argue that this transformation is simply the result of hard work with an excellent therapist. I do not doubt that God used my hard work and my life coach’s skill as tools to deliver the miracle. I know there is more to it, though. And, if you lived inside my soul, you would know it, too.
Easter has come early for me this year. Happy Resurrection!
I’m back! Did you miss me?