Last year’s observance of Lent was primarily physical, though practicing Yogic Lent was definitely a catalyst for more than physical changes in my life. This year I just can’t make the same sacrifices of fasting and daily yoga practice because I’m in the midst of training for my first half-marathon. I’m running four times a week, with core training and exercises to condition me in the pursuit of becoming a more efficient endurance runner. I start my third week of training tomorrow, and looking at the next two-weeks of training, it’s going to take everything I have just to meet my own goals. So, it’s just plain unrealistic for me to observe Lent the same way I did last year and reach my half-marathon goals. And that’s okay. People go through seasons, and I’m learning to become more flexible with accepting the inevitable changes of life.
This year I’ve decided to reflect on what I do with my time. As a writer, I spend quite a lot of time communicating with words, whether at work where I research and write full time, or volunteering with PIET part-time. Then there’s the blog you’re currently reading, which I fit in when/where I can. These are all useful types of writing. They challenge me to hone my skills, almost constantly; and the variety of writing forces me to develop a range to cover diverse topics.
But when I compare all of these types of writing with what I write (and read) on Facebook, it’s obvious that I could invest my time better. The only benefit to social media sites like Facebook is that they’re social. They attempt to connect people; and in some ways, they succeed. Social media is a great way for family and friends who are separated by countries to stay in each others’ daily lives. But that same type of communication with local friends seems less genuine, and it is certainly less necessary. So to use my time on more skillful types of writing, while also maintaining a social media of sorts, I have set Facebook aside, and I will spend Lent 2013 writing Lenten Letters.
I got the idea for Lenten Letters in a Facebook post by a recent new friend from church. I absolutely loved the idea of a daily letter writing discipline! (Please let me channel Jane Austen!) And Lent is the PERFECT time to start.
I have a collection of friends from college on the mailing list as well as new friends in Knoxville and even complete strangers in my church community. My most long-standing friendships are among college alums, and with several thousand miles among all of us, it’s no wonder we’ve lost touch. With those letters, I hope to cultivate rich ground that’s been lying fallow for too long.
I’m not entirely certain how to approach the new friendships and strangers just yet, and I’m looking forward to a recommended book on the lost art of letter writing for helpful tips. Because she inspired the whole idea, Wendy is up for the first letter, and all I know at this point is that I’m making her a mixed cd because I’m just not sure where or how to start.
Community Life & More Friendship Redefined
This Lenten practice has already challenged my perspective on what “community” is as well as what friendship is. Why are people “friends” with me on Facebook? In one of my very first blog posts, I touched on this topic, and I’m sure I’ll be exploring it more as I make my way to Easter. As a result of that post, I did a mass cleansing of my friend list and “unfriended” over 400 people. Since then I’ve tried to keep the number between 100 and 160, and I’ve noticed the number creeping up again since I’ve become more involved in my community. I’ve added mostly church friends, some yoga friends, and some running friends. But especially with these new local friends, what does it mean for us to be “friends” on Facebook?
Again, what does “friendship” mean? What does it require? Are there implied and unstated commitments? Do we have a cheap friendship because it’s easy for us to “like” one another’s status updates, while it seems so very hard to find the time to meet face-to-face for coffee or a walk? And what does the Facebook style of communication do for friendship? Do you really care about the cute cat videos I’ve posted; or what of the Buddhism quotes or political rants?
Since I keep my friends list fairly streamlined to college alums, some family, and local friends, I don’t feel weird about the times I’ve shared personal status updates because everyone on my friends list actually knows me personally. It’s actually been a source of comfort and strength especially with friends who live miles away and would prefer to know when I’m struggling. But then again being so sincere and authentic in such a superficial format seems more than just a little awkward at times. I have friends I feel closer to now because of our Facebook friendship than I ever did when we were living in the same community in college. But then when I consider my two “best friends,” I couldn’t tell you the last time I spoke with them on the phone or saw them in person. Granted, they both live over 100 miles away, but that only illustrates the point further: how are they my “best friends” when I rarely communicate with them?
Maybe Facebook is a good way to initiate a real-world friendship for people who prefer to stay on the margins. As someone who struggles with social anxiety, it is much more comfortable for me to read about someone than it is to actually interact in person. So am I using Facebook as a crutch…as a way to keep people at a comfortable distance? Yes, that is very likely, and that will be just one of the challenges I face this Lent. If I want to develop and maintain friendships…real life friendships…then I need to make these people a priority. But then how do I do that when I work full-time, volunteer part-time, and struggle along with endurance training? Scheduling the time to write seems to be easier than scheduling time to meet, and maybe the Lenten Letters project will serve as a way to preserve quality communication while considering my own time constraints as well as my friends’ busy lives.
Today’s COS Meditation
This first Sunday of Lent marked a return to weekly worship for me. With working on weekends, being iced in, and getting used to a challenging new physical & sleeping routine, I’ve missed several weekly services since the beginning of the year. I’m glad to be back, and today’s meditation was so perfect for the first Sunday of Lent. That it focused on being in community with others also made the service all the more appropriate, considering my Lenten objective.
The Call to Worship was the following call & response:
L: We have made a covenant with God and with one another,
P: To walk our spiritual journeys together,
L: To be an inclusive Christian church,
P: To manifest the love of God toward all people and all creation.
L: As pilgrims, we are not certain what awaits us along the way,
P: But we believe,
L: We believe,
All: We believe that the God of Unbounded Love walks with us, guides us and sustains us.
The pastor then spent Children’s Time explaining to the kids and congregation that when Jesus sent the disciples out (Luke 9:1-6), he sent them as pairs. The kids offered up great responses as to why they might need to stick together: to survive, to prevent from going crazy by being alone, to help with directions, in case one of them got sick, etc.
The congregational response to the Gospel reading was from Hebrews:
Seeing that we are surrounded
By so great a cloud of witnesses,
Let us run with perseverance
The race that is set before us,
Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
I love that they followed this with an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” and then the pastor shared his meditation about how we are “Better Together.” The meditation started with describing how Jesus spent his 40 days in the wilderness, upon which we build the practice of observing Lent. And Jesus’ time in the wilderness was alone.
Isn’t it easy for us to be alone? Isn’t it easy to convince ourselves that we’re cut off…that no one else out there gets it? It’s what drives us away from real-life community with others to the virtual world and community with anonymous people. Being alone breeds self-righteousness because no one else is around to hold us accountable. It makes us ignorant for lack of skillful interaction with others. It’s what makes us stay cooped up in depression and self-loathing. So many of us (myself included) fall into this trap of singleness. We convince ourselves that we are alone, and then we are alone.
The pastor explained how Satan tempted Jesus to rise up (alone) to take control or fix everything. But Jesus resisted, and then he rejoined his disciples. And when Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the Gospel, he sent them in pairs. He knew the disciples needed to stick together, perhaps from his time alone in the wilderness, but maybe also from a lifetime of feeling that no one else could relate to him. Or, sending the disciples out in pairs could have just been a totally practical thing in the Ancient Near Eastern world. Whatever the reason and whatever the benefit, it all leads back to us being better together.
The service’s closing prayer was adapted from a prayer by Ted Loder
L: Holy One, this Lent, in the weeks ahead, let something essential happen within us and among us, change us in some way that really matters; a change that will turn us toward one another and move us to share tears and laughter, and to dare the dangerous deeds of your Love together.
All: This Lent, in the weeks ahead, let something new happen within us and among us; something which is the awakening of your Love in our midst. Amen.
….and I really hope that happens for me this Lent.
If you’d like a Lenten Letter, please send me an email with your mailing address at c(dot)mayes(dot)sanangelo(at)gmail(dot)com. I am sending some international letters too, so don’t let that stop you!