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Insights to Spiritual Journeys

What exactly is Lent?  I would ask myself that when I was younger but I lacked the motivation to find out.  Sure, I knew it was a time before Easter and Jesus wandering in the wilderness and praying a lot. I also remember my father setting up a large wooden cross in the baptistery, where our church immersed individuals for their baptism.  Each week he would add a new symbol or object to it during the Lenten season which was fun to see how it would evolve the following week. Later I did discover that those objects were part of the stories of Jesus leading up to Easter. However, I really did not begin to understand Lent until college and seminary and the importance of this time within the life of the church and its members.

Serving as a college chaplain was when I really began to enjoy the Lenten season. I was always curious to see which students would participate in the tradition of refraining from doing something, modifying their behaviors, or taking up a new task or behavior.  In doing so they sought to use these practices as touchstones or reminders to develop themselves on their spiritual journey. For some, the idea of adding something seemed a lot easier because they could just work it into their schedules such as volunteering or spending time on a spiritual discipline. For those that gave up something, it was much harder especially for them if that aspect was routine or something they really loved doing like drinking sodas or eating French fries. I found that no matter what they tried it was a formative experience for them.

Lent is one of the few recognized times of the year where we focus on the journey toward the cross, the myriad of emotions that fill our thoughts and senses as we try to discern God’s call. The Christian journey is lifted up and the community is invited to this path of discovery, healing, and transformation. This year has provided me with many opportunities to see what it means to be a Christian in the world.

This past year has presented our churches, our communities, our nation and the world with new challenges.  These events have elicited powerful responses within so many people and groups as to how we should address them. Our beliefs and ideas are formed from our upbringing, education, spiritual journey, and external influences (family, friends, news, social media, etc.) that we allow to shape us.  Our world views make us unique and give us voices that can enrich our spiritual communities and change the world. We must remember that we are all on journeys of growth and discovery though our modes of transportation might be at different paces. Acknowledging this makes it easier to see people as same rather than different.  At the core, most people want to love, have strong relationships, make a difference, discover their passions, and enjoy life in this incredible world God has created and continues to create.

Information on spiritual growth and personal development is readily available through the internet and social media (and yes, libraries still exist and are wonderful places). We are able to hear theologians, philosophers, and preachers from all over because of technology. This is an incredible tool and opens up our spiritual growth to new possibilities. Technology can be a double edge sword when it comes to learning.  I have noticed that it is sometimes hard to discern where the seeds of truth, accuracy, and dependability reside, especially with computers and CGI. Computers can transport us to fantasy worlds in science fiction and even altered realities. I was amazed at technology advancements when Forrest Gump interacted with JFK and other historical events which were part of our national identity. At that time this was innocent and fun for moviegoers.  This technology is accessible to anyone interested in learning it.  Some of the funniest memes, talking animals, and YouTube videos feature this technology.  The flip side is that it can create, twist, and distort truths or reality itself making it very difficult for Christians to discover truths. 

This poses many challenges to our spiritual journey and can even create divisions within the body of Christ.  These “truths” become like or more powerful of an influence than the Bible and Christian teachings.  When passions are brought in fuel is added to these discussions, arguments, and trenching in to absolutes. A recent article published last year in Experimental Psychology found that people were more inclined to spread and absorb misinformation if the person was angry or angered by a topic. Anger now has the power to decenter us and make us more vulnerable to misinformation.  

Understanding and knowing our center as Christians will aid us in our Christian walk. While anger is a God given trait and can be a powerful spiritual ally, if not grounded it can lead us astray.  I hope that our goal centers on becoming a reflection of God’s love in the world, so that when people see us, they can see a living Christ within us not only through our words but in our actions and how we carry ourselves. Do they see us walking with humility, doing kindness, and working toward justice as the prophet Micah learned? Are we seen as extending God’s love and breaking down barriers as Jesus did toward the woman at the well and taught in the story of the good Samaritan? Are we coming together as one body of Christ as seen in the gospel of John chapter 17, so that our efforts are multiplied and enhanced to change the world in ways that only God can envision at this time?

As I have encouraged college students and others to find their calling through exploration and curiosity as well as trial and error, I also hope that people are using this Lenten season as a time to do the same. I am thrilled to see so many groups that are meeting virtually through this pandemic, and I know that many will continue afterwards. I love having conversations about God, the church, and our mission in this world. I am looking forward to summer camps where campers learn what it means to have a relationship with a loving God and share their stories with others. Learning from campers on how to build Christian community without limits or boundaries so that we can be the body of Christ in this world is eye opening and heartwarming to hear their passions. I am also looking forward to a time where we can gather again in person so that we can see each other’s faces, hear each other’s stories, and give each other hugs without fear of the consequences.

For those looking for possible ways to continue your spiritual journey, I would invite you to sign up as a counselor or volunteer for summer camp. I learn just as much from preparing a camp or curriculum as I do from our campers.  They help shape me and hone my own world views and bring me closer to God. If working with children and youth is not your thing, there are many other opportunities to help out at the camp that do not even require you leaving your home. Some of our current volunteers have discovered this already. We need people who are interested in helping develop curriculum, developing and writing policies, and a host of other administrative tasks. If you are interested, please contact the camp office.

As always, I hope that this finds you in a place of well-being, peace and encouragement as we continue to be the church. Blessings and peace on all that you do and may others see God through you.

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