It’s hard to believe that we are on the cusp of living a year with a global pandemic – not an anniversary anyone wishes to celebrate. We are also coming up to the beginning of Lent, with Ash Wednesday being Feb.17th this year. Last year during Lent we were so shell-shocked with the realization that life and the church were being radically altered, that I think many of us were simply surviving as best we could. We were also coming to the realization that our celebration of Easter was going to be hugely different, just as our Christmas has been nothing like any Christmas before it.
This year, though, we are “old hands” at being the church during COVID tide. We’ve adapted to Zoom and YouTube services in ways that have surprised us all. Yes, “old dogs” can indeed learn new tricks- we are living proof!! We’ve adapted resources for online platforms, just as we’ve learned to always carry a mask with us, use hand sanitizer and widen our social proximity to 2 metres. So what will Lent be for us this year?
One thing I noticed over Christmas was that when all the frantic glitter was stripped away, I discovered a quiet, unassuming flow of peace and joy I had not experienced before. I felt more deeply grounded in the story of the Incarnation. There was a simple, basic beauty to it all that really felt wonder full and I felt very blessed to receive the gift of it all. How might this sense of being more spiritually grounded express itself this upcoming Lent?
Now I could let you know about the latest Lenten study program online, but I’m not. I could give a shout-out to enter into a regime of daily prayer, but I’m not. Rather, I would like to share some musings I’ve had about this upcoming Lent. Lent has always been a season of reflection and penitence, but how will Lent look this year as we continue to deal with the ongoing impact of COVID on our lives? What has the pandemic taught us about our faith?
One thing that has struck me over and over during this past year has been the unpredictability of it all. No sooner do I adjust to the latest restrictions, than they have been changed. This has applied to church life as well. No sooner do we think we need more online resources, than folks are feeling overwhelmed by the plethora of options. No sooner do we think folks are tiring from the adjustments needed to keep existing as parish communities, than someone comes up with a great idea for a fundraiser or a way to add something technologically. What this leads me to think is that I will need to flow with what’s happening around me. As has often been said, “ You can’t fight the river.” I need to be mindful, alert to what’s around me and to make thoughtful decisions about what I wish to participate in- aware not only about “what’s out there”, but also “what’s in here”. It can be so easy to be overwhelmed by all the upcoming Lenten resources, losing sight of what I am in need of this Lent.
The next thing I’ve been struck by during the pandemic is a radical need to be kind to myself. To allow myself to choose NOT to do X, Y or Z. This pandemic has drained all of us of a fair amount of our psychic resources, the energy to “be productive”, the tiredness that accompanies our ongoing loss of human contact and support, the frustration of our usual routines being blown away. When I am able to draw deep down into the acceptance and love of myself that I really can only take in through the grace of God, I am free to simply be me and to feel a spaciousness about how I will live out this Lent as fully as I can.
Another aspect of the pandemic has been how it has affected time and what we do with it. I still ask folks, “So what have you been up to?” when I meet them, but nowadays, we generally have to respond ,” Not much.” Our pace of life has slowed down. The activities that gave shape to our days have, by and large, been cancelled, leaving open space actually not begging to be filled.
As well, our expectations have been erased. We don’t have to prove anything to anybody because everybody is doing as little as we are! What this means for Lent is that I’ve got the space to choose nothing at all. I can actually simply breathe and thank God for the gift of life in that breath. I don’t have to “work on my prayer life” because my life as a whole is a prayer. This is perspective allows for more space and more freedom to just be me in whatever form that takes. So maybe this Lent I might give up filling my time with meaningful Lenten studies and just keep breathing and thanking God. Listening for the “still,small voice” that knows me better than I even know myself.
Finally, there is the reassuring sense of the cycle of the Christian year. Each year Lent comes and Lent goes. This Lent will be like no other and yet will be like every other Lent we’ve lived. As we have proven to ourselves as this year of pandemic has unfolded, the seasons of the Christian year blossom for their time, regardless of how we do things. God was with us during last Lent and Easter; then this Advent and Christmas and God will be with us now in Lent again. God with us in all and through all. May this Lent be all you need it to be, even if it appears to be nothing at all. Thanks be to God.