Friday, March 18, 2016

Getting Closer to Life as Usual, or Will it be Usual??

Looking at my calendar and at the date of my last post, I am realizing it has been nearly a month since my last post.  As the saying goes, "time flies when you're having fun," although not so sure I can consider it all fun.  This Lenten journey has no doubt been challenging, thought-provoking, but also fulfilling and even renewing.  Like Jesus wandered through the wilderness following his baptism (see Luke 4: 1-13), he was sent by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tested and tempted by the devil.  Although Jesus is able to stick to his faith, rejecting the devil each time.  It was also highly challenging, as Jesus had nothing to eat the whole forty days and it shows, as he is famished at the end.  Lent is a time of opportunity for going into our own wildernesses, taking a long look at ourselves in the mirror and examining where we fall short with God.  But, Lent is also an opportunity to grow closer to God, giving up some of our earthly pleasures and relying on God.  But now, the Lenten journey is beginning to draw to a close.  The end of the wilderness is in sight, along with the return to life as usual before the wilderness.  But, will life be back to the usual??

This Lent, I made a last-minute decision to join a friend on a modified Daniel Fast.  If you'd like to learn more, check it out here.  Last year, I gave up all meat except fish, so this year was an opportunity to really go deeper and give up dairy, coffee, alcohol, sugar, processed/fried foods, and leavened breads.  My friend has done this a little longer than I have and all I can say it has been tough, but it really does make a difference in our relationship with God and in a way has made this Lent a lot more meaningful.  While I don't always immediately see things, I really feel that my relationship with God has grown stronger and that I feel a new sense of focus that I have not felt before.  I can't say I have been perfect in this modified fast, but I also find myself hungering more for God's presence than food or other earthly pleasures.  I think that is the difference this fast has taught me, although I also feel a new sense of energy and bodily transformation too, as it has required intense discipline and a deep sense of focus, along with a willingness to be held accountable.  While I do look forward to eating some of the foods I enjoy once again, I don't crave them like I thought I would when I started this.  And I have found that I may continue cutting back on some things for good, like dairy and leavened breads.  I feel a new sense of wholeness as a result and encourage others to give this a try for Lent next year.  And although I have not been perfect in my fast from Facebook and Twitter, I have noticed how much better I sleep at night not being sucked into the vortex of Facebook and believe it or not, actually get more work done.

Yet amidst giving things up for Lent, Lent is also an opportunity to add disciplines.  This year, I have added some spiritual reading from authors who have had different experiences in life and their faith journey that may be different.  I have read Gifts of the Dark Wood by Eric Elnes, Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, and am currently working on Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber.  Each of these books are written by three clergy, very imperfect clergy.  Yet, amidst imperfection, God calls each of us.  God still uses each of us, whether we are a sinner or saint, or whether we favor light or dark (or as Barbara Brown Taylor calls, "solar spirituality" or "lunar spirituality").  It's okay to ask questions, and it is definitely okay to walk in the dark.  And, it's okay to be who you are.  That's the gist of each of these three books offers and hope to write a little more in-depth about each soon.  It's definitely a good way to see a new perspective, but have also felt God speaking to me through these three authors.

Finally, my time in the wilderness during Lent has also been good, as it also heralded in a new chapter in my life.  As many of you know, I am preparing to graduate from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC this May and move back to CA.  Last week, I made a trip to California to go before the Bridges District Committee on Ordained Ministry in the California-Nevada Conference to seek certified candidacy and approval for my local pastor's license.  After not being sure how things would go, I am happy to say I was affirmed as both a certified candidate for ministry and towards my local pastor's license.  So now, the waiting begins for the next step and hopefully, that phone call from one of the four district superintendents with an appointment offer.  Sometimes, the wilderness is uncertainty, but I also feel like I have reached the edge of the wilderness in this part of the process, although in some ways, my time in seminary has also been like being in the wilderness.

But, is life really going to be as usual anymore?  I actually hope not, and hope that being in the wilderness is a transformational experience for all who go through it.  While we associate the wilderness with something stark and desolate, the wilderness can be a good place to be for contemplation, reflection, and searching ourselves from the inside out.  After all, there can also be beauty in the wilderness too.  But now, we are near the end of the wilderness, almost to Jesus's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper with the disciples, and to the cross of Good Friday as we gradually make our way to the joy and new hope that the resurrection will bring us on Easter Day.

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