On the quest for a personal Lenten journey

lent_desktopAs a young boy, living in the South Philadelphia suburb of Tinicum Township, I spent a good deal of time at St. John’s Lutheran Church serving as an acolyte.

I loved being an acolyte.  We got to wear robes like the clergy; we got to light the candles with a super cool lighter/extinguisher thing; we got to assist in the distribution of the communion elements; and, the most cool thing of all, got to ring the church bells!  I can barely put it into words how important being an acolyte was to me at that time.

When I was nine years old, we moved to New Jersey and my parents left the Lutheran tradition behind us.  After a few years with a non-denominational, community church, our family settled itself in with the local Church of Christ– an evangelical, fundamentalist tradition born out of the restoration movement.

Too say the very least, the Churches of Christ disagree with the worship practices of the main line denominations, and my services as an acolyte were not needed in my new church home.  This secretly broke my heart, but I lived to accept the fact that things were going to be different.  The old ways of my young faith were to be set aside, and I would simply have to learn the new ways of God, which were actually the old ways of God.

Confused yet?  Yeah, so was I.

My maternal Grandmother, who lived across the street from us in that South Philly, suburban row home, continued on with her faithful participation in the Lutheran tradition, and, because of and with her, I secretly kept some of the traditions of her faith in my own practices.  A very significant practice for me (not every year, I’ll admit) was the practice of observing Lent.

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What I remember about my observance of Lent was that it began 40 days prior to Easter and that I had to give up something; that was about it.

As I grew older into adulthood, I pretty much gave up the practice entirely.  I don’t have the time to give up anything.  I’m good without it.  Besides, I don’t worship that way, anymore.

About fifteen years ago, my wife and I re-examined our faith and were led to a different way of seeing God, faith, and religious practice.  We now identify ourselves as Christians who worship in the United Methodist tradition, and Lent and Easter once again play a very significant role in the practice of my faith.

This year, in an effort to grow, I determined to seek out a Lenten journey that was more personal for me than giving up caffeine, which has become my go-to item to chuck.  This year I thought that instead of giving something up, I would seek to find something to do, a path to walk that would bring me closer to God and my fellow humankind.

I was led to the House For All Sinners And Saints, where I felt invited and called by God to participate in this Lenten practice.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, whether you believe in God in your own way or reject the notion of God altogether, no matter where you are on your journey in this life, I want you to know that I am going to participate in this Lenten practice as a way to lift you up.

I don’t need you to be like me, to worship like me, to practice a religion like me.  What I do need you to know is that you are so much more than you can ever imagine, more valuable than you can ever realize, and loved beyond all measure.

During the Lenten season as many around the world reflect on where they are in relationship to God, I want you to know that you are as close to God as the air you breathe.  God is never away from you and you are never away from God.

You are loved and cherished by God because you are God’s beloved creation.  You are loved and cherished by God because you were created, in spite of all of the things you might think get in the way.  You are worthy because you are God’s beloved child–redeemed and whole and brilliant.

During this Lenten season I want you to know you are loved, and I will try my best to show it.

I wish you peace!

_________________

Follow Scott on Twitter: @scotylang

All I want for Christmas is your two front teeth

princetonxmasI’ve been working in a local bookstore for some supplementary income, lately.  It’s Christmastime, and shoppers are searching for that special gift for their loved ones who enjoy a good read.

Add freezing temperatures and snow that periodically continues to fall before its ancestral flakes that have come before have had the chance to melt away for good to the usual Christmas shopping craziness, and you’ve almost got yourself a good ol fashioned Christmas panic!

Most of the people I see coming into the store have very serious looks on their faces.  They need something, some not sure what it is when they first come in, and this weather, coupled with this time of year, raises the bar on the Stress-O-Meter to almost unbearable heights.

Everyone feels it.  The air is thick with it–tension, stress, weariness.

But all of this heaviness in the air can be lifted as easily as the lightest of Christmas turkey feathers by the simplest thing in the world.  The simplest and most glorious gift that we each have to give, and one that can be given over and over without ever running out.

A smile.

I didn’t come to this realization on my own, I can assure you; it took a little girl to remind me.  She couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, and came into the store with her mother to shop for a gift to give her friend.  When they found just the right book, they brought it up to the counter for me to ring up.  She was so excited, the girl, smiling from ear to ear in anticipation of giving this amazing gift to her pal.

Then, as if things could get any better than that, her mother asked me if I could gift wrap the book.  I said, “Of course!  We have three types of paper to choose from.  Which of these would you prefer?”

I pointed to the three choices, and the little girl came closer to the counter for a better look.

“Ohhh! The snowflake one will be perfect!” she said.

“Snowflakes it is, then, ” said I.

I took my time, wrapping carefully.  When I finished, I held it up to see if it would do.

“Oh, Mommy!  Molly is just going to love this!”

Her mother looked at me and smiled a smile of her own.  “Thank you, so much.  Have a wonderful Christmas!” she said, as they headed out into the snowy day.

“It was my pleasure,” I answered.  And it was.

As I watched them through the window, they crossed the street and disappeared into the afternoon.  I caught a glimpse of myself in the window’s reflection and realized that I, too, was now smiling.

Outside the snow began to come down with a greater determination, promising a treacherous drive home, but for that moment, everything was just as it should be.

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