Lent isn’t just a gift for us convinced “churchy” types. It is the Church’s gift to underdogs, renegades, spiritual deadheads, and cultural hoarders, too. Historically, during Lent (which means quite simply, Spring), God’s rag-tag collective has willingly chosen aridity above over-watering, penitence over pride, self-sacrifice over indulgence, broken interiors over shiny exteriors. It’s the John the Baptist trailer before the Jesus main event. Is it any wonder it has precious little publicity? I mean really, who in their right mind would want a specific period of time considerably longer than the obligatory 30 minute happy ending wrap-ups during which one doggedly pursues the dark, not so pretty parts of our souls?
Actually, quite a few.
Lent is not generally the holiday hot spot of the liturgical calendar. It bids us come and mine our shadowy interiors for soft spots needing stronger foundation, or sinkholes needing to be filled in with something substantive. It’s a bit more like a dentist appointment than a car wash. Both are necessary, but one isn’t as much fun; is a little less sudsy, and creates greater discomfort.
What is the broader invitation of Lent however? In our pursuit of her riches we will use a lot of insider language: repentance, centering, seeking, lectio divina, true self/false self, contemplation, etc. It is wonderful, time-tested language descriptive of something known, experienced and at least partially understood – by the convinced.
There is a very real danger in the Christian spiritual formation enterprise that we become comfortably cloistered in the safety of recognizable, “insider” language. Our shared assumptions, ideology, emphases, personalities, experiences, and ethos almost guarantee some gargantuan hurdles for interested onlookers.
What would the spiritual formation enterprise say to the thrice-divorced Mom of four, without alimony, presently working two jobs, one of them prostitution, just to survive? To the middle-aged businessman who has just lost his business to poor management and embezzlement? He’s trained for nothing else, his self-esteem and confidence are in the toilet. He has mouths to feed. To the fifteen-year-old girl, kicked out of her fundamentalist home minutes before thumbing a ride to obtain her second abortion? To a man on death row, guilty of killing an entire family, including a little child? To the frat house full of “dudes” intent on bagging and bragging their next unaware, likely unwilling, virgin?
Without falling back into another insider language of North American evangelicalism, how would the language of the soul speak to them? To others? To those who have never even heard the words ‘Lent’ or ‘spiritual formation’ or ‘centering’, or ‘apophatic’ or….
Would this be “contemplative evangelism?” If not, then what?
I welcome all of you to a Lenten blog series entitled simply, “Eyes in the Alley.” I have assembled a crack team of bloggers to help us struggle through this a bit. They will engage head on with the places of need and the places of disconnect which keep much needed spiritual nourishment from making its way into the bellies of the least of these, the last, the lost, the shat upon, the hopeless, the frightened, the trapped, the hated, the screwed-up-with-little-recourse among us. I’ll kick it off on Ash Wednesday with an opener and a blank page upon which we may all work.
I…we, heartily welcome you to this series. I’m truly excited about this little venture. My own hope is that our collective voice may offer a probing look into to a topic of increasing interest to many: Christian spirituality for “the rest.” That is, the language of the soul in the grime of the streets; trying to understand ways that our spirituality becomes for us…eyes in the alley.
Ash Wednesday: Yours truly
Lent, Week I: Sunday, March 9 – Christianne Squires
Lent, Week II: Sunday, March 16 – Bob Holmes
Lent, Week III: Sunday, March 23 – Valerie Hess
Lent, Week IV: Sunday, March 30 – Dr. Elaine Heath
Lent, Week V: Sunday, April 6 – Tara Owens
Palm Sunday: Sunday, April 13 – Giff Reed
Easter Sunday, April 20 – Valerie Dodge Head
Pictures from here