Year C, Spring Lectionary

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Sometimes, I wonder if our faith formation director secretly picked out our Sunday School program for me. Oh, sure the kids love it and learn a lot. But seriously? The prepared lessons align with the Revised Common Lectionary. All of the materials (including the Whirl Story Bible) use color coding and symbols for the different seasons. It’s a Type-A School Nerd’s dream come true!

More on our Sunday School program later. For now, here’s a belated list of this quarter’s readings:

Lent 1 – Jesus is Tempted – Luke 4:1-13

Lent 2 – God’s Covenant with Abraham – Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Lent 3 – God Provides – Isaiah 55:1-9

Lent 4 – The Prodigal Son – Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Lent 5 – Mary Anoints Jesus – John 12:1-8

Palm/Passion Sunday – Luke’s Holy Week – Luke 22:14 – 23:56

Easter Day – Jesus is Risen – Luke 24:1-12

Easter 2 – Alpha and Omega – Revelation 1:4-8

Easter 3 – Saul Meets Jesus – Acts 9:1-20

Easter 4 – Peter Raises Tabitha – Acts 9:36-43

Easter 5 – New Heaven and Earth – Revelation 21:1-6

Easter 6 – Promise of the Holy Spirit – John 14:23-29

Easter 7 – Paul and Silas – Acts 16:16-34

Day of Pentecost – Filled with the Holy Spirit – Acts 2:1-21

Inspiration via St. Augustine

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In The Road to Character, David Brooks seeks to uncover methods for living more in tune with “eulogy values” (beneficence, altruism, compassion, etc.) as opposed to the ideals that currently dominate our culture. He calls these dominant ideals “resume values.” Some examples would include ambition, efficiency, and craftiness. And though Brooks recognizes that resume values certainly have their place, he argues that they’ve run amok and led to a sense of spiritual emptiness.

Months after reading this book, it’s still on my mind… which means yes, I’d definitely recommend it. It inspired me and it frustrated me, in part because Brooks roundly rejects a format promising easy answers. Instead, he gives character portraits of multiple famous figures. Taken together, these portraits provide both insights and contradictions. There are no simple steps towards self-improvement.

I’m going back over my notes, rereading underlines passages, and thinking, “I know this applies to my life… but how? What does this mean for me?” I’m not sure how to answer those questions. I’m still just marinating in my mind, and something tells me that’s enough for now.

Throughout Lent, I keep coming back to the passage below. It’s about St. Augustine. I don’t have tons of insights regarding how to apply this reading. It just felt relevant and worth sharing.

* * * * *

“He wanted to live a truthful life. But he wasn’t ready to give up his career, or sex, or some of his worldly pursuits. He wanted to use the old methods to achieve better outcomes. That is to say, he was going to start with the core assumption that had always been the basis for his ambitious meritocratic life: that you are the prime driver of your life. The world is malleable enough to be shaped by you. To lead a better life you just have to work harder, or use more willpower, or make better decisions.

This is more or less how many people try to rearrange their life today. They attack it like a homework assignment or a school project. They step back, they read self-help books like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. They learn the techniques for greater self-control. They even establish a relationship with God in the same way they would go after a promotion or an advanced degree–by conquest: by reading certain books, attending services regularly, practicing spiritual discipline such as regular prayer, doing their spiritual homework.

But eventually Augustine came to believe that you can’t gradually reform yourself. He concluded that you can’t really lead a good life by using old methods. That’s because the method is the problem. The crucial flaw in his old life was the belief that he could be the driver of his own journey (198).”

* * * * *

Yes, yes, and yes. I have definitely pursued spiritual growth the same way I’d pursue a promotion or advanced degree… in part because I don’t know any other way. Is there something I should be doing instead? 

What thoughts does this passage provoke for you? 

Not the Lent I’d Planned

ashes to ashesPhoto Credit: Beth Holmes

Lent first crossed my radar in college, thanks to multiple Catholic acquaintances. Actually, many members of my undergraduate social circle–yes, including atheists and Jews–observed Lent in a spirit of solidarity with our devout Christian pals.

It was during our senior year that my friend Theresa advised, “Don’t just use Lent as an excuse to jumpstart a diet. Pick something that helps you to be mindful about the quality of your life and the intention with which you live it.”

An excellent recommendation I’ve been trying to apply (with varying degrees of success) ever since.

To take it a bit broader: the traditional purpose of Lent (according to that bastion of spiritual expertise, Wikipedia) is for a Christian to engage in concentrated prayer, penance, repentance, and self-denial. Ultimately, Lent is about spiritual refocusing, about drawing closer to God.

Hence the 40-day fasting and/or making of resolutions.

I had big plans for Lent this year. I was going to guide my children through meaningful activities every day! We would do #picturelent at LECFamily. And I would thoughtfully implement each activity that came home in our seasonal Sunday School gift bag. Purple place mats to drive home the liturgical colors! Candle lighting to encourage meditation! A calendar with a daily activity and/or prayer! A book containing brief Bible stories and stickers to place on a three-dimensional cross!

But wait. There could be more. Wouldn’t my children benefit from witnessing my personal spiritual practice? Absolutely! So what distraction or harmful behavior am I giving up? What devotional activity am I adding to my daily regimen?

I must plan! I must execute! I must achieve!

Sigh.

I told myself I was being mindful, but this was really my own personal version of Lent as diet.

Given my outlook, it’s probably no surprise that the Universe decided to deliver a swift, spiritual kick to my head. Lately, my life seems to demand a lot of surrender. And it’s certainly prompting a ton of introspection. In short, I am not making Lent happen. Instead, Lent is happening to me.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of intangible fasting. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the sacrifice I originally chose. I had planned to fast from pressures in order to be prayerful. For 40 days, I would eliminate “should” from my life–you know, all those not-quite-obligations that clutter a family’s calendar. This, I knew, would free up tons of time. And I’d reinvest that recovered time in reaching heights hitherto unknown, both as a Spiritual Being and an Impressive Mother.

But it turns out that I am not fasting from pressure and “should” after all. Instead, I am fasting from control. And I’m fasting from pride. Pride and control, after all, are really what my personal Lenten plans were all about.

Pride and control–two besetting sins I would never tackle on my own. Theoretically, I’m grateful that the choice is out of my hands.

So okay, kids, I’m letting go. We’ve basically given up on any rituals involving the special calendar and candle from our gift bag… and that’s okay. At least you’re interested in your Bible story book (and by “interested” I mean highly invested in fighting over the stickers). And you know what? It’s more than we did last year. It’s a start. It’s enough.

And okay, self, I’m letting go. I fritter away my personal time. I space out during prayer. Instead of sending God my gratitude, I fret about upcoming kindergarten registration. Instead of studying scripture, I read a romance novel. And instead of just surrendering to the beauty of this Lenten season, I (still) keep fighting to change it into something else entirely. Something else it was never meant to be.

But that’s okay. Because you know what? I’m learning. I’m at least trying to listen. I’m trying to be still. I’m trying to observe. I’m trying to surrender my illusion of control.

It’s more than I did last year. It’s a start. It’s enough.

I’m wishing you all a Lent filled with deepened spiritual practice and reflection. I would love to hear more about how you observe these 40 days.