I have never completed a Lenten discipline.
Such confession may cause you to breathe a sigh of relief or perhaps, make a judgment. Recently a parishioner heard me say this in all its honesty, "Really, you too?" Certainly I have tried to be disciplined. I have made charts to plot the journey and laid out calendars to mark off those exhilarating moments when the discipline was seen through for the day. I have worn bracelets of reminder, circled arenas of friends for accountability. I've tried the Forty Days of Purpose and the Serendipity Study Bible charts and graphs. But always something causes me to lose my focus, to lay down the cross thereby leaving me unable to cross this desire off my list: to complete a Lenten discipline.
Eugene Peterson says "Disciplines are overrated. Discipline is a word that should be struck from our theological lexicon." Some might hear his words as dismissive for those of us seeking to be disciplined disciples of Christ. But others might nudge from these words the deepest of truths: Christ is Lord and Savior, not us. My failure helps me to follow the one who is discipline, the one who is disciplined, the one who calls us to follow him -- not our charts, plots or ploys. On the days when I need even further encouragement for the undisciplined journey ahead, I can fall back into the strange safety net of Calvin's total depravity that Father Killian understood even in his discipline. We are saved by grace, not by our own doings or undoings.
Still, echoes of all those Lenten 'shoulds' reverberate through my mind and heart. If I am to strike 'discipline' from my theological lexicon, then what am I to do this Lent?
This Lent, I've been reading Lauren Winner's "Still: Confessions of a Mid-Faith Crisis." Winner encourages a new Lenten practice of letting go of the shoulds and instead living into a new conversation. She speaks of the logismoi the Desert Fathers named which are alternative narratives that guide us: gluttony, greed, dejection, anger, pride, listlessness, vainglory and lust. My prayer, with her encouragement, is to live into new conversations this Lent. This Lent will be less about limitation and instead an invitation to listen.
So I start to listen to those internal narratives. I hear a lot of this: if only, when..., I wish, later, I don't want to, I want, I should, if.... then. And I begin to realize these may be my internal narratives, but they certainly are not incarnational narratives.
Even in the first words Jesus utters, he invites all of us into a new narrative. Let it be so now, Jesus commands in Matthew 3:15. The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News, Mark 1:15 offers breathlessly. Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I'd be in my Father's house? Luke 2:49 tells the story of Jesus' conversation with the rabbis in the temple. Come and you will see, John 1:39.
These words call us to do three things: get out of our heads, get into the sanctuary and get out into the broken world to serve. Now. Internal narratives are easy. They reverberate with the logismoi of gluttony, greed, dejection, anger, pride, listlessness, vainglory and lust. Christ turns these conversations around with simple commands that enact the incarnation and invite the practice of resurrection: Now. Come. Repent. Know. See.
As a leader in the church, there are days I ache and pray for new conversations. Can we let go of some of our old litanies? These are the narratives that preserve the old, minimize anxiety and give us power and control. As a Lenten invitation, can our churches let go of some of the logismoi that bind us and live into the lexicon Christ teaches? The church lives and breathes, all too often, phrases like: if only, when, I wish, I want, if... then. How might our corporate narratives find new life this Lent by listening to the Christ who says boldly: Now. Come. Repent. Know. See. What would these claims call us into? What would we let go of if we lived into the fullness of these commands?
If I strike 'discipline' from the theological lexicon, I have a few new words to add. These words, by grace, save us and guide us through Lent as we listen in to a new conversation that is much less internal, and much more incarnational. Now. Come. See.