Several weeks ago, I sat on my couch wondering what I would “do for Lent” this year. Over the years, I have begun to groan at the thought because it reminded me too much of a “New Year’s Resolution Restart”. I have given up chocolate, Diet Coke, and fast food more times than I count and IF I made it through Lent, I rushed back to my vice with even more desire on Easter afternoon. In recent years, I have been encouraged and interested in the ideas spread through social media– “40 Bags in 40 Days” for donations to local thrift shops and clothes closets, “40 Letters in 40 Days” for mailing letters to friends, and even “40 Hours in 40 Days” for volunteering with local organizations. Seeing these ideas has reminded me that Lent isn’t always about dieting, and so I started making a list of things that I think are missing in my life or might need more attention, finally settling on one.
One thing in my life that I wish I had more of is study and devotion time. My colleague, Rev. Nicole Ball, recently wrote about a missing CONSTANT congregational presence in our lives as we travel from church to church each week. As much as I absolutely love my job, this is something that I do lament, and so for Lent I decided to take time visiting a few different congregations in my part of the world for worship and study, and focus on devotion more at home. My hope was that I would be able to reconnect with congregations I have worked with in the past, but in a less formal way. I knew that some would still be a one-time visit, but I also intentionally picked one to be my “home” for Lent.
Stressed out and fighting allergies, I shut my computer on Ash Wednesday and headed to Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church in Cary, NC for their noon-time service. I have been able to spend time in conversation with their Senior Pastor, Rev. Jody Welker, recently and wanted to start the Lenten season somewhere I knew I was comfortable and wouldn’t feel completely alone. I arrived a few minutes early and sat in the beautiful silence of the sanctuary, watching the wind blow blooms off of the trees just outside the window. The stress began to melt away and I was ready to worship. I listened to Scripture, I sang songs of praise, and I was reminded that I “am dust and shall return to dust, but the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.” The allergies from the morning remained, but peace replaced stress. That night, I decided to join another congregation and friend, Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC (led by Rev. Byron Wade) where I was challenged by Rev. Wade’s question to the congregation of what it means to follow someone– something I continued to consider through the next 40 days.
A few days later, I joined a small group of women from First Presbyterian Church in Durham, NC for the start of a book study. Over the course of Lent, I returned each week to discuss “Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life” (Rowan Williams) and join together in delightful fellowship and prayer. I quickly realized that even having the book sitting next to me on my side table each night encouraged me and reminded me of these women and our upcoming gathering. The two times I did miss this study, I noticed an absence in my week which led me to a prayer of thanksgiving for this opportunity and the women I was getting to know through our discussions. For the season of Lent, I had a “home” and I look forward to hopefully returning in a few weeks!
Throughout the rest of Lent, I sought opportunities for worship in different ways.
I spent one afternoon with the leaders of Farm Church as we worked in the garden and covered the plants so they would not freeze that night. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” echoed in my head as I moved the dirt and prepared the rows for the upcoming planting.
I sat alongside one of my childhood pastors as we each sought sacred space at White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC for their noon-time worship. We celebrated our reunion and praised God in song and prayer, alongside other colleagues from our Presbytery and members of that particular congregation.
While I traveled for Continuing Education, I prayed with other church leaders seeking knowledge of stewardship and other young pastors seeking rest and reflection of the joys and struggles we find in ministry. I listened, shared, and prayed with a beautiful group of women as we reflected on the slave narratives and how we can change the story today by sharing our own (read more about this experience!)
I spent most of Holy Week in Washington, D.C. taking in the beauty of the Cherry Blossoms, the sunsets, and the rich history of our country, giving thanks to God for bringing us through the wilderness so many times through incredible leaders. On Maundy Thursday, I found myself praying my way through a series of prayer stations before worship at Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church in Durham, NC.
Finally, I returned to my parent’s congregation for Easter Sunday where I celebrated the Risen Lord and led worship for those who encouraged me through seminary and were present at my ordination almost two years ago.
With all of these different worship experiences, what did I actually learn during these 40 days?
In the stress, in the sickness, in the celebrations, in the resting– God is there. In the tears of joy while sitting in the car following various meetings and worship, in the tears of frustration when I couldn’t figure out what was going on– I had a group to go to with whom I could both celebrate and lament. On the days when I couldn’t find my grounding, there would be a place to sit and join God both with and without other individuals. In the most unlikely places, we can find reminders of God’s presence when we need it most.
This Lent has been a unique one for me– a true journey through the wilderness filled undeniable glimpses of hope and grace. I didn’t give up any chocolate (I probably ate more!), but I did give up reasons to think that I am alone. I did find my grounding in worship and study. I have found ways for devotion. I have learned how to truly seek God in this crazy, confusing, and unpredictable world.
Will I keep going to the “extra” worship services? Maybe, but not likely.
Will I keep going to the book study? I do hope so.
Will I remember to do my daily devotions each day? I would love to, but recognize that I will miss some.
Will I continue to celebrate the glimpses of hope and grace amidst the struggle and things I cannot control? Absolutely.
We cannot change a lot about this world, but we can change the way we respond. Isn’t that what Christ’s life and sacrifice were about? Following this Lenten journey, I am changing my response through more intentional worship and prayer (apart from what I lead as a pastor). How are you changing your response?
Rev. Jordan B. Davis