Lenten Journeys

Lent is always a difficult season of the church year to enter into--for me at least. I feel like I've got enough suffering going on within and around me that I don't really want to intentionally focus on more suffering. 

At our Ash Wednesday service at church we were led through a visualization exercise with death--just thinking about the reality of death, what our feelings are surrounding it, and the spiritual implications of it. A father and husband at church died unexpectedly yesterday I learned tonight at the Bible study I'm a part of. It was on our minds as we discussed the Beattitude: "Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted." I was also reflecting on my grandmother's funeral this past fall. 

There's the sense where my grandmother's funeral was a blessing. She had been living with the cripling and silencing effects of a stroke for many years. All our family was gathered together for the first time in many years. We heard many stories about her that opened a floodgate of good memories. We mourned her loss, but at the same time were paradoxically surrounded by blessing. 

But I don't know that I could be the widow from church losing her husband so unexpectedly and find blessing in the mourning. I don't know that if something should happen to one of my children that I could find blessing or comfort. Yet death is unescapable.

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The week after Ash Wednesday our church had a week of prayer. People could sign up for an hour slot during the week and go into church and pray in the prayer chapel. I signed up for a slot. I don't remember that I've done something like that before, though I've led prayer retreats and set up prayer stations before.

Honestly, my prayer life has felt dry for a while. I was a little apprehensive about going in to church that day. Seriously--what was I coing to pray about for a whole hour. But the team who set it up laid out several different stations in the prayer chapel that were engaging. From confession with a bowl of water and dissolving paper, to communion with cup and bread, to intercession with paper and sand, to artistic prayer, to a map of the world, to pictures of staff and ministries in church, to a piano and worship cds. There were options. I found myself wanting to engage in more than an hour's time in the room. I was reminded that prayer doesn't have to look and feel like I think prayer should. Whatt I was apprehensive about was a blessing.

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Two weekends ago I was blessed (there's that word again) to be invited to go up north (that's what we call heading to the woods or lakes or Lake Superior region north of the Twin Cities) with a friend to join him at his parent's time share. I heard a guy I know share last night how he was excited about his family's move to New York City this coming summer. He said that's the place his stress melts away and he feels comfortable and at home. I'm the opposite. I need to get out of the city. Lake Superior is a special place for me that way (as are many other bodies of water, rivers, forests, and mountainous areas). Driving north I could feel my body relax as the interstate started its descent toward Lake Superior as I approached the outer limits of Duluth.

I love that area, even in the winter. It has its own magic covered in snow and ice. The shoreline was spectacular with its broken chunks of ice heaved up in minute mountains as if tectonic plates were forming a new landform. Behind Gooseberry Falls I enjoyed the wonder of a waterfall frozen in time. 

I also enjoyed time hanging out with a friend. I haven't had as many of those opportunities recently. It was hard to come back home.

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There are plenty of little journeys at home that are enjoyable, too, though. Last Sunday afternoon the kids and I went and explored a nature center I had discovered weeks ago when lookikng for a place to hike on a warm winter's day. It has a fun nature play area. 

Afterward we headed to the conservatory at the local zoo. The zoo was closed, but the conservatory was open late for the last of a winter concert series they'd been putting on--another free opportunity. Amidst fragrant blooms in a warm glass room, the boys and I had each brought sketch pads and enjoyed doing some drawing while listening to some pleasant live music. Having those sorts of opportunities around us are blessings--and help make city life bearable. 

It's still several weeks until Easter. I'm not ready to focus on more suffering and death. I know it's inevitable. I know the One who is by myside through it. But sometimes I need to live more. And maybe that's a big part of the Lenten journey--those little reminders about life.