Lent

Many of you know that I was raised as a Roman Catholic, spent most of my life worshipping in that tradition, and converted to the Episcopal Church about five years ago. These two denominations are different in some ways that are important to me, but they also share many traditions. Lenten observance is one such tradition.

Lent is the 40-day period before Easter when Christians make a special effort to reflect on their lives and improve their spirituality before Easter. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the day before Lent. Traditionally, Mardi Gras is a celebration of riotous living because it is the last hurrah before the fasting, praying, and abstinence of Lent. Within the Catholic faith, there are specific dietary observances to follow during those 40 days. In addition, Catholics are encouraged to commit to some special activity or to give up some enjoyable indulgence to observe Lent. As far as I know, the Episcopal Church does not have any specific food requirements, like not eating meat on Fridays during Lent. Still, we are encouraged to do something special to enrich our relationship with God during this time of purification.

I take this opportunity seriously. I like to think of doing something that is not rooted in the negative. I like to think of doing something that makes me push me outside my normal view of the world. I like to think of doing something that will allow me to discern a difference in myself and/or others. Last year, I repeated an activity I did 30 years or so ago. Each day during Lent, I mailed a letter to someone in my life who contributed positively to my spiritual development. Some of these letters were to people I interact with virtually every day. Others went to people I have not seen in more than three decades. As I wrote my letters, it was wonderful to revisit the experiences and impressions I had with these people. It brought their place in my spiritual development into sharp focus and, as a result, it brought what they taught me about spiritual development into sharp focus. The response I received was also enormously gratifying. I brought joy to the people I contacted and many of them, in turn, brought joy to me in their replies.

I wish I could say that I always undertake such ambitious Lenten observances. This year, I have been prayerfully considering what activities might be helpful for me. Last fall, I developed and taught a 4-part course on stewardship. It was something that I felt, to the depth of my soul, that God wanted me to do. That feeling is a rare and wonderful thing. It is a special blessing to experience God’s grace and direction in such a confidently powerful way. The whole program ended up being such a fantastic, joyful, affirming experience for me. I thought I might look to that program to see if I could pull anything out that would work as a special Lenten devotional.

One of the key concepts of the class was that stewardship consists of three responsibilities- taking care of the gifts God gives us, using the gifts God gives us wisely, and sharing the gifts God gives us generously. I decided to embrace three observances- one for each responsibility- for this Lent.

Taking Care of the Gifts God Give Us

One of the biggest gifts God gives us is the natural world. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I have not even embraced the most basic conservation strategies of the modern world- recycling. My diet soda and iced tea bottles skip the recycling bin and make their way directly to the trash can. In the grand scheme of things, I know my lack of recycling does not make a dramatic difference to the planet. Still, the fact that I do not bother to undertake this minor task tells me that I am not giving God’s Earth the respect He deserves. As a small token of my desire to change, I am going to start putting my recyclable disposables into the proper bin.

Using the Gifts God Gives Us Wisely

This is an area that I have been fine-tuning greatly in the past year. In the past, I was inclined to downplay my talents and gifts, fearing that they were not sufficient to contribute anything special to God’s work. I have been realizing that God gave me these gifts because He wanted me to do something with them. If they are not sufficient, He will grow them to what they need to be. Sometimes, the act of doing is the mechanism for growing. I learned this as I dove into projects at church- Alpha, Blessed Stewardship, ECW chapter chairperson. It looks like I will be taking on another big project for my church starting in May. Since it is not a done deal yet, I won’t say what it is. However, as I pray about my Lenten observances, I have felt my mind rambling to thoughts about how to administer that project and how to promote it. The project is not something I volunteered for, but I think it is something God wants me to do… if for no other reason than to show me that, with His help, I can. I think His hope for me is that I will trust Him more and start listening to His exhortations about what He wants me to do next in my life. My resolution during Lent is to start organizing the random thoughts in my head to build the framework of a plan.

Sharing the Gifts God Gives Us Generously

I try to be generous all year long. I am so aware of the many ways God has blessed me. I enjoy giving to others. I do not want to just “give more money” because “giving more money” is something that we should do whenever we see need. I want to attach the giving more time, talent, or treasure to some specific action that will be meaningful to my spiritual development. Being a good steward of God’s gifts is more about the benefit to the giver than the benefit to the recipient. This Lent, I am going to concentrate on a project that is close to my heart. I have been wandering around writing my third book. I have started and stalled several times. I recently began a more concerted effort to structure and draft the book. This Lent, I resolve to complete the first draft of this book. The book is about my mother’s life and my journey with her in this world and onto the doorstep of the next. The mental, emotional, and spiritual exploration I am doing in conjunction with the writing of this book is proving to be quite soul enhancing. I know that God is using this process to remind me of His grace. To share the gifts of His grace, the writing talent He has given me, and any treasure that results from the publication, I will give half the proceeds from the book to St. James Episcopal Church. I do not expect that this will fund any major project- heck, I doubt if it will buy pizza for the youth group-  but doing this act is more about the benefit to me than the benefit of the church.

Please pray for me!

Do you have any observance you embrace during Lent? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a prayerful day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Al-phantastic

Some of you may remember reading some of my blog pieces about the Alpha program I’ve helped run at my church. Alpha is a program designed to give people a place to explore the big questions of life- meaning, purpose, God, religion, relationships, etc.- without judgment or pressure.  The program originated in the Anglican Church and is now used by churches of all Christian denominations all over the world. I mention that to demonstrate that Alpha is not “way out there” or cultish in any way. 

This 12-week program offers weekly sessions consisting of friendship, a video about some basic principle of Christianity, and a small group discussion to unpack the content of the video and to wrestle with any questions that our Alpha guests have.  The conversation is relaxed, candid, open, and uncharged with expectations.  One attendee, an atheist, specifically mentioned how it was clearly a “non-coercive, relaxed environment filled with caring people.”

Alpha is for everybody.  Some Alpha guests are unchurched. Some would not even identify themselves as Christian. Some have been sturdy lifelong believers.  Many are somewhere in between.  The intended audience is anyone who is questioning their spiritual journey in life or who is not as close to God as they wish they were. 

I always think of Alpha as a “search party.”  It is a “party” because one of its main foundations is friendship- having fun and good conversation together.  It is a “search” because we are all searching for something. 

In the past, running an Alpha program meant, among other things, providing dinner for our guests every week.  The principle was that the catalyst for the evening is relational.  The basis of the program is the sincere, genuine friendships that develop. It is frequently those relationships that spark the power of God into each evening’s proceedings.  Sharing a meal together is one of the best ways to foster those relationships.  If anyone questions whether the Holy Spirit actually works through the Alpha program, all they need do is consider that I pulled off multiple dinners for 50 without poisoning anyone. To put that factoid in perspective, you have to know that my first Alpha evening was the first time in my life I had ever hosted a party.  I don’t even really cook.  I eat a lot of peanut butter and pre-made food at home.  I still look at pictures of the foil pans of food I prepared for Alpha dinners in absolute amazement.  I’m sorry, but I have to take those pans of food as evidence that there is indeed a God.

Now that we are living in world where people must stay physically distant and sharing food in public is suspect at best, meeting in person and sharing a communal meal is not a good option.  We want to spread the love of God, but not the coronavirus.  Still, in a time when people are more isolated and lonelier, Alpha may be even more necessary than before the pandemic. 

As Alpha pivots into a coronaviral world, we are finding that we can recreate the Alpha experience virtually.  There are even some additional benefits from running Alpha online.  There are no geographical limits.  There is no necessity for anyone to walk into an unfamiliar location.  Parents who have small children can participate even if they have no one to babysit their kids.  If guests have to travel for work, they can still jump on Zoom for the discussion.  When we “meet” people in their own environments, we get to know each other quicker than in even the most relaxed “classroom” type setting. 

We can even adapt the elements of Alpha that seem particularly rooted in the face-to-face experience.  We may not be able to serve dinner every week, but that does not mean we cannot find creative ways to share snacks.  We may not be able to have light conversation around a dinner table, but that does not mean we cannot dedicate part of our virtual session to just being friends hanging out together.  We may not be able to share physical hugs, but that does not mean we cannot encourage, comfort, and love.

So, it turns out that the Holy Spirit is perfectly okay using Zoom.

My church is going to start a new season of Alpha on Wednesday March 10,2021. We will be meeting on Zoom from 6:30-7:45 pm Eastern USA time.  I thought I would take advantage of the “no geographical limits” benefit of online Alpha to invite you to participate with me.  I would really love it if some of you would join us.  If you do not want to commit to the whole program but would just like to “come and see” for a session or two, you would be very welcome. 

In our crazy, coronaviral world, many folks are already using Zoom.  For those of you who have not yet gone Zooming, it is really easy.  It is free.  All you need is a computer or tablet that has a camera, microphone, and speakers.  Some desktops have all these things.  Just about any laptop or tablet will.  You can even use a smart phone, but it is a little less comfortable.  If you wish to join us, I’ll be sending you a link by email.  All you will need to do is click on it.  The first time, the process will lead you through installing the Zoom app on whatever device you are using. 

If you would like to hang out with me in an Alpha session, please email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Please provide your name, phone number and whether or not you can/wish to accept texts at that number, email address, and mailing address (you never know what delightful surprises you might find in your mailbox!)  I will keep your information private.  There is absolutely no commitment and NO PRESSURE. 

Please consider joining us for our next search party!

Have you ever heard of Alpha?  What questions do you have?  Does it sound like something you might find interesting?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Let’s party!

Terri/Dorry 😊