words by Chris
The word Lent, the season of forty days of renewal in the church calendar before Easter, in its original Anglo-Saxon meant, “the lengthening.” In England, as in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, these forty days fall in the time of year when the days lengthen, the Sun stays with us to brighten our days and warm the earth. The squinting of our eyes prepares us for the nearing spring and renewal. It also signifies a time of lengthening our spirituality, a time when we make concerted efforts of spiritual preparation, a time when we revisit our conversions and see where in our lives we need to continue to turn to God. There is something to be said about this time of preparation and the lengthening.
There is value in stretching out in this season, to lengthen not like a stretched out fragile piece of gum, but like lengthening fabric to ensure a new garment, when sewed, will be sufficient, or spreading a blanket to cover our whole bodies. No toes peeking out to get cold. This idea of lengthening can be seen in sound waves. When the wave lengthens it is slowing down. We so need to slow down. Kosuke Koyama writes that, “[God] became slow; very slow. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the son of God, means that God went so slow that he became nailed down in his search for [hu]man[ity].”
In this day in age of instant gratification, constant connectivity, and high-energy hyper- efficiency there exists a deep need and a valuable indispensable gift found in patience and waiting. Slowing down allows us to listen to our deepest longings, our reasoning and impulses, for better or for worse that guide the direction and decisions in our lives. Slowing down long enough “to seek the Lord while he may still be found” (Isaiah 55.6) allows us to take stock of why it is we do what we do. It hinders our momentum so that we can change direction when needed. Slowing down allows us to not simply listen within, but to listen to others, to the world around us. Instead of being swept into the torrent and battering of polemic shouting or apathetic ignoring, slowing down allows us to become attentive to the pain, fear, and hope of our neighbor and the stranger in our midst.
We originally hoped to leave for Ecuador in February or March. We are delaying now so that we can have our budget fully funded and for our children to complete the school year. Friends and acquaintances have asked me how I feel about this delay. Part of me is disappointed. I want to be in Ecuador and begin the ministry there we have been talking about and working towards. There is a sense of urgency. I have been reminded of the Apostle Paul and his constant desire and urge to get to the Iberian Peninsula of Spain. He never made it, but others eventually did, and others are still there living and proclaiming the Kingdom. Now while we are not called to church planting like St. Paul, we have been invited to a specific ministry that we are passionate about and excited for. This lengthening of time here in Chicago is a good reminder that mission and ministry do not depend on any one of us. We are each given gifts to share. While a sense of urgency is needed as we engage with a world longing for the Kingdom, we cannot be so inundated with looking to the future that we neglect slowing down to notice where God is present in our current contexts, where our gifts our required here, where we can learn and be formed by God through those around us now.
We have been given a time to continue in our preparation. I practice my Spanish, we translate resources for pastors, we visit museums one more time, we check out enormous amounts of books searching for helpful and useful bits, we will get another chance to visit family, meet with congregations we haven’t been able to see yet. We worship and pray with our community here that has been with us these past four years. I will have the opportunity to visit, face to face, with my spiritual director. Though I am tempted to want to hurry up and be in the thick of things in Ecuador I am grateful for these next months to continue to prepare. I am grateful because I trust that our ability to minister will be lengthened by an extended time of renewal.
For a short history on Lent see here: http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20110315_1.htm
The quote from Koyama comes from his “Pilgrim or tourist” in 50 Meditations.