It’s the first Ash Wednesday in 12 years that I won’t be dipping my finger into a small pot of ashes and tracing the sign of the cross on the foreheads of people I love and serve.
On the upside, I don’t have to make the call about canceling services tonight, as the threat of a snow squall looms right at evening rush hour.
Last night I brainstormed possible Lenten disciplines and came up with about fifteen different things I might try. Gee, overcompensating much?
It’s so easy to get into competitive Lentening. No spiritual Crossfit for me, though. In the next few days I will settle on a couple simple practices that draw me closer to God. For today I am pondering time and mortality.
Would you believe a clickbaity post–a listicle, no less–is part of that pondering? Thank you to my brother for posting this to Facebook, 23 Facts about Time. It’s light, but fascinating and even thought-provoking.
Things you think are eternal are not. Other things are more timeless than you might realize.
But in all things, remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
It’s one of the most important things we do in the church, to trace the truth of Psalm 103 on one another’s foreheads:
As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of God is from everlasting to everlasting.
…longer than calculus, the Pyramids, or Betty White.
Image: a friend posted this to Facebook–I’m trying to find out the source for permission and attribution.
A couple of Sundays ago, in those restless moments before the alarm goes off but you know it’s about to, Robert and I heard a large thud and the power went out. It came on 30 minutes later.
We assumed that a transformer blew, but later we saw one of the entrances to our subdivision was blocked off. Beyond the barricade was a police cruiser, repair truck, and a car. Or half a car. The front was completely smashed.
We later learned more about the accident. Or at least, the two pertinent facts. There was alcohol involved, and a person died.
Someone was driving drunk at 6:00 in the morning.
A person died at the entrance to our subdivision.
The next day, when the street had opened, I was taking the girls to choir when I saw the crowd of people at the crash site, with flowers and stuffed animals and notes. And, I saw tonight after dark, electric candles.
I’ve long been fascinated with roadside memorials. And this new one, so close to where my kids walk to school and where I begin almost every one of my runs, reminded me of the following poem, which I wrote about a different roadside memorial many, many years ago.
It seems appropriate to share it before Ash Wednesday.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
To dust all things return.
you are remarkably sober
as you assemble what you need,
a strange array of supplies:
glue, feathers, cardboard, flowers, wire;
and you fashion a set of wings
and a funeral bouquet,
and a sign that says Rest in Peace
in black marker
in your best script,
and you take it to the tree
with the bark ripped off,
at the ruthless bend in the road.
you hang the wings
well above the tree’s white wound,
and nestle the bouquet
between two roots,
and as you affix the sign
a car speeds by,
slicing the air as it goes.
another car passes, and another,
and at first
the gusts knock you off balance,
but you learn to adjust,
to brace yourself,
to stand firm and lean in.
how dare these people
floating on the waves of radio songs,
laughing into their phones?
you think about the place often,
but you don’t return for some time.
you can’t, because
the busyness of your mourning has tipped over
into the business of your
getting back to
getting on with
moving forward with
it’s embarrassing, all your grief on
so you leave the site untended;
it’s just easier.
sooner or later you must return,
straighten the feathered wings,
remove the sign that bled black letters,
and clear out the wilted blooms,
or maybe just crush them into brown confetti
that trembles into the road.
fresh flowers were the right decision at first
(vibrant, real, momentary, like she was)
but now it’s time for practical silk, and you cry,
not because she deserves better than fakes, though she does,
but because silk lasts awhile, and you know now,
this is going to take much longer than you thought.
so you secure those wings even tighter,
and you plant those silk flowers
secure, for the long unchanging time.
now’s the season
when nothing much happens.
you glide by the place, just like the others;
though you slow and breathe, you don’t stop.
as time goes on, you notice:
the bright, fake flowers grimace on, stupidly,
as if put there only yesterday,
the cardboard wings have aged:
the feathers are dulled,
the edges are worn,
the fringes are ragged;
despite all your hard work,
they are becoming more and more
an organic part of things.
it is the paradox of grief,
always and ever new.
Lent begins tomorrow, and among other things, I’m experiencing the season by taking a break from blogging. But only sort of. These next several weeks I’ll be highlighting posts from the archives, sharing quotes and links that mean something to me, and maybe even posting a photo or two.
There are a number of reasons for this, one being that I’m trying to make headway on my next book, Spirituality in the Smartphone Age. I need to create some space and time for those words to come. So I’ll be resting in the words of others…
In this space, anyway. I’ll be writing short weekly reflections on my email list, which you can sign up for here.
I’ve written before about how judgy people can get about Lent practices that strike them as too much about self-improvement and not enough about devotion to God. I’m not interested in diagnosing whether giving up blog writing is a “good enough” discipline. It’s what I’m doing, that’s all. I feel called to it.
How about you? Will you be taking on a practice this Lent?
Our series on the last week of Jesus’ life continued on March 3 with the Last Supper. I didn’t do much with the table since it was set for communion. The kids went to Sunday School that day (we do SS twice a month and the Upper Room twice a month) and they made chrysalises. They made tissue paper butterflies, which they put inside toilet paper tubes, wrapped them in purple tissue paper and tied them off on each end. They are currently hanging from the ceiling of our fellowship hall with the idea that the “new life” will emerge on Easter Sunday.
On March 10 we shared the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Here is the table:
The white candle I had burning the entire time. The three purple candles were lit at the beginning of the service, and each time Jesus returned to find the disciples sleeping, I extinguished one of the candles (I told the story from the chancel rather than the pulpit).
Since the story was about Jesus praying, I gave the kids some prayer-related items to do in the Upper Room: I gave them a page with instructions for praying in color (I call them ‘prayer doodles’), and a printout of this page on cardstock for them to make a prayer cube if they wished:
March 17 was a special day. I was away, recovering from the half marathon, and we had a completely elder-led service. We had a paperless order of worship, sermon, images on the projector, two guest musicians, luncheon afterwards, and the whole service was broadcast on Ustream. I eavesdropped from home and it was a wonderful sight to see.
March 24, Palm/Passion Sunday was heavy on the passion, since I told the entire story by heart—Mark 14 and 15. I kept the table simple: Black cloth spread flat, wooden cross in the middle, with a short white taper candle burning in front of it. We will extinguish several candles just like that one on Friday during the tenebrae service.
Now, Easter. None of this is formed yet, but I’m toying with a number of things:
First, I’m on the lookout for an Easter bulletin cover that doesn’t stink. So many bad fonts. So many cheesy Easter lilies. Luckily we have a color printer so I expect I’ll come up with my own image. I love this:
It’s so Johannine, eh? But a couple of friends said it was “creepy”. Whatever…
In terms of service: two years ago we started with a call to worship that wove in the song “He Lives In You” from The Lion King. While the song played, we stripped the black cloth from the table (leftover from Good Friday—the song starts tentatively which lends itself to a slow build), then gradually added elements: water for baptismal font, communion elements, candles etc.
Last year we did the call to worship from the fellowship hall, so that our Easter breakfast led immediately to the service. As the people flooded into the sanctuary, the choir sang a boisterous introit.
What to do to start the service this year? We seem to have more than our usual crop of people out of town, so I’m going with video images rather than something involving a lot of people. I’m thinking about the Ode to Joy flash mob—thanks Marci—you can google it if you want (though if you attend Tiny, don’t google it, be surprised!).
I will definitely be weaving this video (which has gone viral bigtime) into the sermon:
It is traditional for Tiny to have communion on Easter. I have mixed feelings about it, to be honest. I’m not sure how visitor friendly it is. Of course we welcome all to the table, but do visitors really feel welcomed if they’re not accustomed to the eucharist? In any case, I’m contemplating a slide show of evocative images as we come to receive the elements, perhaps while listening to David Wilcox’s song “Rise”:
Beloved, it is time for you to rise. Time for you to RISE UP..
With a sudden sense of wonder | Though the promise goes unspoken
As the joy comes to your eyes | When the joy comes to your eyes From the burden you’ve been under | For your soul was never broken
Beloved, it is time for you to rise, time for you to rise.
Here at Tiny, our focus in worship this Lent has been the last week of Jesus’ life. Using Borg and Crossan’s book, we’ve been look at the stories leading up to the crucifixion. The sermon series is called Journey to the Cross.
The ‘journey’ bit ties into another initiative here at Tiny, the Journey to Jerusalem. We are encouraging folks in our church to walk, run, bike, etc., then submit their mileage each week. We’re trying to make it to Jerusalem before Easter!
So far so good. We set a modest goal of 100 miles a week, which when multiplied by 10, will hopefully get us there. But the initiative has been so popular we are using a factor of 5 instead… and we may still make it to Jerusalem and back. Check it out:
Just a small way we’re trying to encourage health and wholeness here at the church.
And yes… as the map indicates, we walk on water here.
I’m also making an effort to change up the look of worship each week, primarily on the communion table, but also through the kids’ activities in the Upper Room. Of course I haven’t thought to take pictures—sorry, I’ll do better!—but I’ll describe what I’ve done in case others want to adapt:
The first week, we looked at Jesus’ “cursing” of the fig tree (Peter’s word, not Jesus’, which I talk about in the sermon). For that Sunday, I had a black piece of fabric laying flat on the table with a vase with several nice branchy twigs sticking out of it, sort of on the left, with the communion elements towards the right. I had a long piece of purple fabric that I snaked around the table, with one side wrapping around the vase, then curved around the communion chalice/plate and hanging off the front. (By the way, you need to experiment with levels when you do focal point stuff. You can use books and things underneath the cloth to create some variations in height.)
We invited the kids to do this simple activity (sans leaves) in the Upper Room, which was meant to represent the withered fig tree:
The kids took these home to have on their dinner tables during Lent.
This past weekend was the anointing of Jesus. I used a different multi-colored cloth for the table and put a large glass bottle (actually a decanter) on the table, along with a copy of the St. John’s Bible (which I talked about in the sermon), propped open to the gospel of Mark. I also included this figure I got on a trip to Mexico during seminary:
We’re fortunate at Tiny that we’re, well, tiny, so people can see what’s on the table pretty well. Also, folks came forward during the prayers of the people and we did an anointing with oil, so they could see the table elements even better.
For the kids in the Upper Room, I gave them a bit of nard (the oil mentioned in the story), which is smelly stuff. They were invited to make cards for each person in the church service, using construction paper, markers, stickers, etc. I asked them to put a little smear of nard on each paper so people would have the scent as a reminder of this story of extravagant love.
The children did a wonderful job of this, and stood with me at the door following the service, handing them out. Most of the notes were small, but Caroline did do an oversized one for Robert and me: