God, Health

Reflections on a very Lenty Lent

I close my eyes and allow the music to envelop me.  I pause to soak it all in- take a deep breath and smell the familiar smell of this place.  I’m overcome with emotion. The choir processes singing the Great Litany. A familiar voice serves as Cantor and the people respond with their prayers. The energy feels different that morning.  I feel the prayers ascending in a way that nearly takes the breath out of me.

A few days before we gathered for Ash Wednesday. I’d found myself feeling solemn after the service was over.  Solemn for days afterward. I need Lent this year. We’ve been through a lot in the last few years. I need to acknowledge suffering.  I need to walk the road of grief with Jesus. I also need to gather on Sunday to celebrate the risen Lord. 

As I pause to reflect during The Great Litany I get an overwhelming feeling in my soul, “It will never be the same again.”

The procession at church during The Great Litany

What is that supposed to mean? I’ve had a feeling for months something bad was going to happen. Many bad things happened in our lives over the last year.  Yet the feeling didn’t shake. Our church had a string of vandalism that seemed a targeted hate crime. In that moment I wonder if there’s going to be an act of violence on the church.  I rejoin to sing my prayers and petitions while wondering what this sense I have means.

It lingers in the back of my mind through the service.  Coronavirus? No, it can’t be that. It’s not going to be a big deal here, it’s under control.  Maybe it’s the different church service we’re experiencing, a sense that this service is unique?  I don’t think so.  

I head to the altar for a blessing at communion. As I return to my seat I feel a prompt from the Holy Spirit to soak it all in.  After almost 20 years away from the Episcopal Church, I am back. To be back again is a gift in and of itself. To back in this grand cathedral and 1500 miles away from where I lived my whole life is a journey I never could have imagined. I look around the cathedral and soak it in with no idea of what’s to come.

A “Lenty Lent”

What is to come would be a very “Lenty Lent.” We’ve all given up much more this Lent than we ever intended to.  Within 48 hours my healthcare team would tell me to stay home now. That feeling I got suddenly makes sense. I am back to living a life of isolation after only getting my life back again in the last few months. My Lent last year started our in literal darkness. This year I spend Lent isolated.

I felt a strong pull to study the Language of Lament during Lent this year.  My intention was to process my grief and trauma through this experience. There was no way I could have known that it would turn to a Lent with more grief and trauma piled on.  

My approach to everything is to begin with books.  I dove into books on Lament. Time and time again I was struck by the gravity of the situation facing our world.  Struck by how desperately we need Lament in this time. I have a lot to process on Lament and a lot I want to share.  For now, I encourage you to look into Lament if you’re looking for a way to process this all.

That first week of Lent found us in a world that changed daily- even faster than daily. Within a week I went from this stunning gathering of The Great Litany to live streaming a nearly empty church the next Sunday.  I went from having an active and full calendar to crossing almost everything out.

The second week of Lent- self-isolation recommended for many, including myself. What a difference a week makes.

By the next week, everyone was home.  My husband was suddenly a hero for working in a grocery store.  The entire country understood what home education was like. All my friends and family were starting to understand what our time of isolation was like.  Everyone was understanding what cold & flu season had been like for me for years. I found the Language of Lament speaking to the pain I saw all around. 

By the third week of Lent, everyone is live streaming & those leading the service are separated by at least six feet. It’s hard to see every week.

Entering Holy Week- Lent feels like it won’t end

Now we find ourselves about to enter Holy Week.  In many ways, it feels like Lent is not going to end after Easter Sunday.  We will not gather. We will still give up so much. The suffering and pain are not ending.  

As I write this my friend’s husband is on life-support and waiting for a plasma donor for an experimental procedure they hope will save his life.  Her son is ill as well. A friend is under “hospital at home” and openly questioning if she will make it out of this alive. People are going into hospitals and dying alone.  The virus is wreaking havoc.

We can mark the end of Lent on a calendar.  We cannot mark the end of any of this new world we find ourselves in on the calendar.  I hate that. During cold/flu season when I was sick and isolated, I could predict. I knew around early March I’d be back our and doing things again.  None of us can write anything down. There are no end dates.

We need Easter more than ever this year.  That hope sustains us. We will walk the suffering and sorrowful road of Holy Week with a new meaning of pain.  We will weep with the weeping and find ways to connect with each other. Empty churches don’t mean Easter is canceled. Easter finds a way. Easter will come and bring that hope I’m clinging to it like a life vest.

Empty churches. Empty baptismal fonts. An empty tomb.
Easter still comes, my friends.

“It will never be the same again.”

I understand the prompting I had in my heart now.  People keep talking about life when we return to “normal.” Every time I see that I think “that person doesn’t know trauma.”  

There will be no return to normal.  Trauma doesn’t let you return to normal. 

Trauma forces you to find a new normal. You adapt with the lens of suffering.  This is a process I’ve had to watch my sweet child go through far too many times.  A process I know well. I don’t want to go through it again. My consolation is this time it won’t be as isolated.  It’s not only my family.  

Our entire world will have to find a new normal.  None of us know what it will look like. I have hope folks will reprioritize after this.  I have hope our Earth will get a bit of renewal. I have hope relationships will be more valued and we’ll get offline to interact in person more.  I have hope more will discover the value of eating well and supporting a healthy immune system.  

Yes, Lent will feel like it’s extended this year.  Things will never be the same. I will process as best as I can.  I will pour out my Lament to God and express my anger, sadness, fear, and pain.  We will find our new normal day by day.  

The only way through this is through, my friends.  May we come out on the other side changed people.

May the peace of Christ be with you.

Here are a few resources for your Holy Week and this pandemic season-

~ A Prayer for a Pandemic– this is a prayer I wrote for those on my mind lately
~ My Holy Week Spotify Playlist– favorite songs for Holy Week and songs that are comforting me in this time
~ My Lent Spotify Playlist – filled with songs of Lament, I’ll keep this one playing even after Easter 
~ A Novena for Times of Unraveling- I cannot recommend this highly enough.  It’s a 9-day prayer and meditation online retreat cultivated for this time in history by Abbey of the Arts.
~ Sacred Ordinary Days– They offer podcasts, resources, and spiritual guidance for each liturgical season
~ The LiturgistsPodcast, guided meditation, multiple online communities, 24/7 open Zoom rooms for folks to gather, and much more. They’re doing a lot to keep folks well and supported.

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