Return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
~ Joel 2:12
How will you make way for your return? Are you giving something up? Are you adding something in? Will you weep and mourn? Most likely. Will you gaze outward, reach upward, maybe look within? What can you do this Lent to truly transform your heart and not just change your garments?
Today marks the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday, and a good indicator of my willingness to return to God with my whole heart is just how many hurdles I have to jump over to get to mass! Sheesh. Littlest will go with her school in the morning, but since my students are in the middle of a writing cycle and need me in class, I will miss that opportunity and the noontime masses in my area. The Catholic church I belong to has a beautiful ecumenical (non-denominational) service in the evening but will not offer communion. The church down the street from that? Well, in anticipation of my semi-annual trip to the confessional, I’ll be nice here and just say that’s not even an option. My afternoon will consist of schlepping an hour home from work, taxiing biggest from the bus stop to dance, and then making my way in rush hour traffic across town to a church I’ve been to exactly once so I can sing and pray and receive my ashes. Who in God’s name does this? Isn’t it easier to throw ones hands in the air in OH WELL and succumb to the schedule like everyone else? I mean, who has been known to drive two and half hours for good church?! Do you know anyone, I mean, anyone . . . besides me?
At some point on this blog I contemplated this gravitational pull some of us nuts have toward church. Why do we go? What is it that happens there? And more importantly, why is what happens there so vital to our being? Here’s what I had to say,
I’m thinking today about my friends and companions and what draws us to one another. Prompted to delve deeply into my own philosophy on faith by a priest friend who posited these questions on his blog yesterday, what are you hungry for when you go to church? What happens there that satisfies you? I couldn’t easily answer in a quick reply. This is a huge question for me because I am not a rote attendee–I have made a conscious decision to live a spiritual life and I don’t go just because it’s what I’ve always done.There is something there that stirs grace within me and helps me go out into the world with a deep sense of gratitude and joy, a sense of peace and hope that then spills over into the lives of others I encounter along the way. What is that something? Well I could easily identify the tangible poetry of church: the music, the visual beauty in stained glass or marble or oil and canvas, the words strung together in a song that speaks to me. But I think there is something intangible and much more visceral that draws us in.
In the gospel readings . . . Jesus and his disciples multiply loaves and fishes and feed the multitudes gathered around their table, hungry for wisdom, healing and affirmation. They are drawn into community around this single most ancient drive for fellowship. What brings them there? This is the beauty of our human story because while I think we all come from a place of misery at some level–whether that misery is true cosmic pain, physical discomfort or doubt and insecurity–we arrive in this place of glorious hope . . . once we are together, gathered around a table. It often seems as if we are in a deserted place, with cruel destruction brought about by natural and man made disasters, and to overcome such devastation, we reach out for the hands of those around us and simply hold on. That spirit moving within us, the spirit that leads us to one another, I believe, is love and hope and understanding.
~ Rebecca Board Liljenstolpe, “For We are In a Deserted Place Here“