i grew up in the southern baptist south. we called the sunday before easter palm sunday, but we had no idea why, really. the sermon was likely to be from the book of kings. our pastor had a fixation on jezebel. on easter we all wore new clothes, and there was usually a "contata," although not always. it was easier to get enough voices for the real holiday, christmas. we didn't celebrate it, but all of the theology of redemption we had was centered around good friday, so easter was left to the super market and department stores. we got easter baskets.
when i began to enter the "big church," at all saints' episcopal in memphis, the membership entertained a wonderful mix of theologies: some were catholic and prayed through the church year with great devotion. some were evangelicans who thought the church year a bit too pappish. some thought easter baskets were the work of the devil. some "gave up" something for lent.
as i have come to appreciate the breadth of traditional christianity, i have come to look at lent not as a time of giving up anything, but as a period of particular grace. we let go of some things so our hands and hearts will have more room to hold more. fasting, alsm, and prayers are gifts given to us so we may more closely participate in the life of our lord.
many of the desert saints wove baskets as they prayed. it kept their bodies occupied so the would not be distracted, and they sold them to support themselves. so i have come to think of lent as the time of baskets, more than easter. and i encourage you to join me in thinking of what has been given us in our lenten baskets this year.
my koan of this year has been how to understand the land in which i live as holy ground. this was an amazingly koan in that every day in the office or the liturgy there were comments on it. this morning, for instance, from the reading for the epistle:
"who is among you tht feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his god." (isaiah 50)
somewhat to my surprise, the biggest gift in my lenten basket has been obedience. walking requires listening. this does not seem a popular virtue these days. the american episcopal church has excised from psalm 95 the verses which seem to me to distill my "solution" to my lenten koan:
"today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts
as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness;
when your fathers tempted me,
proved me, and saw my works.
forty years long was i grieved with this generation, and said,
it is a people that do err in their hearts, for they have not known my ways:
unto whom i sware in my wrath,
that they should not enter into my rest."
there is not shortage of material to help me with my lenten koan of coming to know this land, the land which i find myself "given", as holy land.
not that there aren't plenty of distractions. i easily find distrations. so i read s. basil, who encourages me to simple clothes, and s. david, who encourages me to simpler simpler, and they help me to see that much of what i might think of as my struggle is itself a distraction. "my struggle;" mein kampf: i should think more of how destructive "my struggle is." but when i see it as just a little part of the struggle of the saints, the part i have been given like the little "parts" we hard to read in sunday school as children at walnut street baptist church, then it seems both doable and nothing special.
but most often the struggle for me is a struggle for family as much as place. my lenten koan: to walk on and know the holy ground. in my readings this morning moses encountered the holy one in the burning bush, who introduced himself as "the LORD, the god of your fathers, the god of abraham and of isaac and of jacob. this is my name for ever, and this shall be my memorial unto all generations." the place is holy because the holy one is in it, as jacob had found at beth el. but the line of generations has been broken, it seems, for me and for many of my contemporaries, and so i seek, prior to the god of my fathers, my fathers. moses had no vision of the holy one so long as he felt at home--settled--among the egyptians. so i sit here in the spring sunshine on the edge of this ozarks holler reading robert van de weyer's celtic fire: the passionate religious vision of ancient britain and ireland (new york: doubleday, 1990), looking for my forefathers in wales. but i cheat. i am expecting in the mail a book by donald nicholl on the russian religious visin, triumphs of the spirit in russia. i find my fathers, it seems, on the edges, on the fringes, on the outskirts, never in rome or constantinople.
the day after i was given my lenten koan, this bicycle was pointed out to me as being for sale at the local bike shop. i had admired it last summer, but hadn't seen it out front and had assumed it had been purchased while i was wandering around the northwest and southwest and texas and such.
but no. it's there, and a very real temptation? so, i'm wondering just how literally to take all the admonitions to "walk." is this little wheeled wonder "just a little one" as was the city to which lot retired after the destruction of sodom? it seems probably a small decision. but life is made up of the results of all our small decisions, far more than of the big decisions. pray for me, my friends.