Almost ten years ago now our family began attending an Anglican church. I was just coming off a rending ministry experience and we were looking for a place to get stitched up, even loved on a little bit. A good friend mentioned this beautiful church with Rwandan roots, and we’d had enough velveteen rubbed off to try anything. So we did.
My wife grew up Catholic so many aspects of the liturgy were familiar to her. I, however, grew up Southern-fried Baptist, so liturgy was always something sorta outlaw, and as such appealed to me to no end. I had tried different liturgical movements as a pastor in the Baptist churches I served but alas, all is possible but not all profitable. But when I walked into that stained-glass ark-like chapel where not preaching but communion was the focal point of the morning, well, I felt like Odysseus hearing the voices of home -
Not long after we began attending, Lent rolled around with the requisite Ash Wednesday service to kick off the season. I left early that Wednesday morning, swinging by the chapel before work started, and when that dear priest (who recently was consecrated a bishop) rubbed that gritty ash on my lily-white forehead, something changed. Observable to the naked eye? Doubt it. But to those who cared enough to pay attention, yes, I believe they could sense something different, that here was a man (me) wading deeper into a stream that’s been running for God knows how long. The Baptists taught me to swim, and for that I say ‘thank you’ every day; it is not a slight thing. And the Anglicans taught me to float, to trust the current. The river is dangerous, but as big Jim Harrison says, ‘only the water is safe.’ Yeah, put that one in your pipe and smoke it awhile.
I know the tales of spiritual pilgrimages are legion. I actually find that comforting, that people are always taking steps, some big, some baby, toward the Grace that keeps this world. For me that’s what the Lenten season is, another pilgrimage, another trip down the days different than last year but also somewhat the same, a shriving inching toward that dilapidated sky where the thirty-something long-haired hero I have loved since I was a boy hangs pinned to the wall of time and through his purpled lips whispers ‘remember, nothing can separate you from me.’
I will miss our Ash Wednesday service this evening. I’m skiing in the Colorado mountains; a few runs, then stop and rub the knees, then a few more. In the economy of God nothing is wasted, so I am not a bit surprised that with each lift back up the hill an old Baptist hymn hangs gentle on my mind – Whiter than snow, yes whiter than snow.
***There are a number of Lenten resources available. I mention two – Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter from Orbis Books and Simplifying The Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit by Paula Huston. Of course there are many others. My encouragement is simply pick one. Don’t fret too much about which one…trust the current.