When I first began to feel drawn to liturgy and the Church calendar, I was looking for something planted deep, something I could hold onto in my faith. I felt flimsy, shaken. I’d gone through a college experience of spiritually emotional highs and crashes. I was scared to death of the doubts that clouded my mind. I was looking for something to connect me with tradition, though I couldn’t have put it into those words then. What I knew was that if my “personal” relationship with Christ was totally dependent on my person, I was in trouble. I wanted an anchor to weigh my flighty self down.
I feel that way still about the liturgy. I feel like it has rescued my faith time and again because it runs deep, because I’ve been learning to pray true things no matter what my insides are screaming.
More recently, I’ve been learning how much I need the Church calendar to direct me, to guide my journey each year. I’m learning that with age comes mourning. The older I get, the more I will mourn, the more people I love will mourn. I will be called to celebrate with the joyful ones and weep with the heart-broken, sometimes on the same day. So I must learn how to hold both at the same time. As I live my daily life in this city, I am awed by the wonder of this beautiful place, how I can see the Golden Gate bridge rising out of the fog off in the distance as I push my kids to the preschool. At the same time, I can pass by two homeless men shoving each other on the sidewalk and try my best to explain mental illness to my son. It’s both at once. It’s the beauty and the brokenness. It’s the celebration and the mourning.
The Church calendar gives us a guide to live with both. If we live our days ignorant of the fractured world, we will fail to be agents of healing to the people we live among. We will begin to believe an allusion that life is rosy and we will delude ourselves. We will never know how to really celebrate if we’ve never mourned. A real life of flourishing holds both: pain in one hand and hope in the other.
That’s why I’m drawn to Holy Week. Our culture sells us lies about surface level happiness. It tells us to be pretty, to be nice, to polish the outside and pretend the dark stuff isn’t there. But Holy Week walks us through the darkness. Good Friday forces us to mourn. And when we allow the darkness of Holy Week to turn our hearts and minds toward the broken things of this world, Easter’s message runs all the more richer, all the more deeper. Lent lasts forty days. But Easter lasts fifty. NT Wright says Easter “ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before…”
This year for Holy Week, I’m joining with my church in practicing Hungry for Change, a five-day opportunity to eat like the much of the world’s global poor. For five days (for me, starting last night and ending the evening of Maundy Thursday), I will join my community in eating small meals of oatmeal for breakfast and rice and beans for lunch and dinner, like much of the world’s population does on daily basis. I’m wondering if you might consider joining me, as a way to spend this week of heart preparation in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world.
On Good Friday, the altar of of the sanctuary is stripped bare. It is an image of grief. What can we do in our lives this week to strip our souls bare? To empty ourselves of those things that we are often tricked into thinking we deserve? Will you grieve this week so you can celebrate next week?
Will we allow the calendar to teach us how to hold the breaking world and the promise of new life all at once? Today and everyday?
For more information on Hungry for Change and how to spend this week in solidarity with the neediest among us, click here.