If you’d rather listen to this blog post (a large part of which was my Ash Wednesday Sermon) instead of reading it, you may do so here:
On Tuesday night of this week I had the honor of being the guest preacher at St. Augustine’s Church on the URI campus for their monthly Recovery Eucharist. The Archdeacon of our Diocese, Jan Grinnell, created this service to provide a church experience for people who have experience with the 12 Steps. The liturgy is a lovely blend of Episcopal language and the language used “in the halls” of meetings. Because I have been blessed by 12 Step Programs personally and through my loved ones, I have been invited to preach on a couple of occasions at this service.
The service uses the readings from the previous Sunday, and so we were once again hearing the story of the Transfiguration with Jesus, Elijah, Moses, Peter, James, and John. In my preaching I talked about what it’s like to have a spiritual awakening of that magnitude and then have to come back down off the mountain. I talked about how hard it is to recreate our mountaintop experiences as much as we try, but if we keep at our daily connection with God after those experiences we inevitably set ourselves up for another awakening down the road.
You can watch the sermon here https://staugustineuri.org/sermons/. I wish my stole wasn’t crooked, but this is a chronic issue for me.
One of the ways I weaved recovery language into my sermon was by talking about the 11th and 12th Steps as part of how we keep connecting with God after our spiritual awakenings. The 11th Step is as follows:
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of his will in our lives and the power to carry that out.
Now I was still digging the Transfiguration at that point, but I also knew that I was on the eve of Ash Wednesday and the start of our Lenten Season at church. And I have a haaaaaard time with Lent as much as I love it. Anytime we start talking about things like “discipline and “repentance” and “self-denial” I start to get a little wigged out. It feels like the kind of oppressive religion that I have tried to so desperately to get away from – a religion that is laden with guilt and obligation instead of joy and abundance.
As a result of my uncertainty about Lent I am constantly searching for other language to use around this time. I need to re-invent Lent for myself in order to live into it more fully. As I preached on Tuesday night about the 11th Step, I couldn’t help but think that it offers us wording that can help to broaden and enhance the language the church uses. Because when I have taken on a Lenten discipline, this is exactly what has happened to me: I have improved my conscious contact with God. Giving something up for Lent jolts me out of my complacency and reminds me that I am in a different season. A season where I am invited to be more connected to God and less connected to the things that distract me from God.
Last year I posted Brené Brown’s video about the power of vulnerability. In it she talks about how she noticed in her research that people who believed they were worthy of love and belonging had something in common: they lived whole-heartedly. And what allowed them to live whole-heartedly was their willingness to be vulnerable. She talked about how because we are afraid of vulnerability – or bad feelings in general – we tend to numb those things out. But when we numb out the bad feelings, we can’t help but numb out the good ones too.
There are so many ways that we can choose to numb ourselves to our feelings and what is happening around us. I love Brené’s call to be vulnerable. It echoes the Invitation to Lent that we read at our Ash Wednesday service. Lent invites us to stop what we are doing, to take stock of who we are and what our relationship with God looks like. Lent invites us to REPENT: to turn back to God who yearns to be close to us. Admitting the ways that we have let down ourselves and others takes vulnerability. But that vulnerability offers us the opportunity to bask in God’s loving mercy and forgiveness. This process of repentance allows us to be whole-hearted – and why wouldn’t we want that for ourselves?
Last year I spent some time inviting the folks I go to church with to take on a Lenten discipline (even though the word makes me cringe every time!). I will invite my church family to do that again this year, as I have had such positive experiences taking one on myself. But this year, in addition to just asking people to take something on, I’d like to offer a concrete way for people to improve their conscious contact with God during this Lenten season.
So I have a plan. Because my life has been so profoundly impacted by the 12 Step Program, and because those steps have helped me improve my own conscious contact with God, I’m going to spend Lent explaining and unpacking the steps in my sermons on Sunday. Call it a “Lenten Preaching Series” if you will, except that sounds a little too fancy for me.
Each week I’ll talk about one or a few of the steps as it pertains to our scripture readings. And then….wait for it… I’ll offer some homework.
WHAT? Homework in church?
I know, but it won’t be that bad. It will be an invitation to think about something, reflect on your life and your behavior, and try to grow yourself a little bit. My hope is that the homework will help you improve your conscious contact with God.
For anyone who can’t be at church during Lent I’ll go ahead and post a version of the sermon and the “homework” here on the blog, so you can participate even if you can’t get yourself to Pascoag.
A couple of quick things about this idea:
- I am not doing this just for people who have addictions. The Steps are applicable to every part of life and I am quite sure they have something to offer you in your life right now.
- To be clear, we will NOT be working through the 12 Steps over 5 weeks of Lent. I encourage anyone that wants to work the Steps for real to do so, in a program and with support from other people in that program. It will change your life. But it takes way more than 5 weeks.
So the purpose of this activity is simply to give you a Lenten project that’s a little more tangible. Because I mean it when I invite you to a Holy Lent.
I invite you, through prayer and meditation, to improve your conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for you and the power to carry that out.