There is a beauty of barrenness during Lent. Altar décor of greys, browns, and liturgical season purple. Winter bare branches, no flowers. A rough cross behind the altar topped with crown of thorns.
Lent is a journey through the desert, a time for reflection, alone with G-d. It is a time for remembering the One from whom we come, the One with whom we are always intimately connected even when we forget, and the One in whose embracing arms our souls are destined. It is a time for becoming grounded again, everything stripped away but one’s Soul and the One in whom it arises and rests.
The beauty of our parish during these bare, Lenten days is accentuated by the sounds of the wind causing our soaring pitched wooden roof to creak. Candles flicker in the corner beneath the image of the Madonna and child. And in the time before this early, spoken service using the archaic but lyrical languages and imagery of the ancient church in Rite I, silence prevails.
It is a deep, sustaining silence.
It is at moments like these that I realize the deep debt I have to the liturgical tradition which I adopted as a young undergraduate in Gainesville, Florida now over 40 years ago. For those of us who are iNtuitive dominant in our approach to the world, it is the Sensate aspects that come to us unbidden, unconsciously and whisper in our ears of the Holy. The smell of candle wax and incense of solemn masses past. The icons through which one peers to see the Holy looming far beyond the immediate. The vestment and altar dressing reflecting the colors of the liturgical season. The familiar language of the Elizabethan era rite (even with its sometimes dreadful theology).
All of this speaks of the sacred to this child of the church. And, having recently attended a modern Pentecostal tradition church for the funeral of my sister-in-law, I must confess that I simply never feel that in places that look like the Kiwanis Club meets there with the Starbucks clone doing business in the lobby.
A Holiness Created by Intentionality
It occurs to me this morning as I sit in the silent reverie of Lent how fortunate I am to have this sacred place to be this sunny, incredibly beautiful spring day in Central Florida. It is not that the rest of the world is not holy. Clumsy visions of sacred v. profane – much less draconian constructs of a “fallen world” - lose sight of the blessedness of all Creation, often getting entangled in egoistic purity constructs of sinfulness, worthiness and a primitive good v. evil. The Shadow cast by such purity constructs inevitably projected onto those unable to defend themselves against them almost always become the focus of such visions.
Life is too short to waste time on such constructions.
As I see it, the world is, indeed, charged with the grandeur of G-d, just as the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins observed. What makes this place different is the intentionality which surrounds it. A friend of mine in the Liberal Catholic (Theosophical) tradition describes the result of such devoted, intentionality as having spiritually magnetized the place giving it a power heretofore unknown.
It is an interesting way of describing something that probably defies our description even as we may experience its reality. Definitive descriptions tend to be largely about control, a perceived human need destined to be frustrated when speaking of anything spiritual. The Spirit blows where it will, defying all attempts to capture it whether by ritual, by scripture or by the end products of tradition (dogma, doctrine, sermons, et al). On a good day, any or all of these things are merely the finger pointing toward the moon. When we lose sight of that reality and focus on the finger immediately in front of us, we unconsciously lapse into idolatry.
All of those things seem so far away this morning. I close my eyes and listen to the words. I feel the mesmerizing chant all around me as others say the Nicene Creed together. I pray for those in need of prayers and those who have died. I get up from my seat to join the rest of the congregation at the altar to share in a symbolic eucharistic meal. I am happy to be part of something larger than myself this morning, grateful to be present for this sacred moment.
“Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries….” (Post-Communion Prayer, Rite I, Book of Common Prayer)
Harry Scott Coverston
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.
For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)