As I walked into the woods on my Ash Wednesday retreat last week I was dazzled by droplets of water shimmering all around me. Here I was entering the Lenten desert and everything in creation sang to me of viriditas, or the greening power of God. Life was exploding forth before me in this damp forest, the air heavy with moisture, the ground springing beneath my feet.
When I saw the leaf in the bottom photo with its offering of holy water, I remembered my own baptism. Lent is deeply connected to baptism. Jesus went out into the desert after he was baptized by his cousin John. The origin of Lent dates back to the early church when it was a forty day period of preparation for catechumens before their baptism. In many churches today, Lent culminates with the Triduum and the great celebration of Easter vigil when new members are initiated into the community.
I have long struggled with my relationship to the institutional church. It is challenging within the Roman Catholic church as an educated woman who values collaboration and loves all things mystical. There is so much I could say on this topic, but now is not the right time for me to explore that here yet. But I have been having dreams lately that have been asking me questions like “where is my place?” and “what am I doing here?”
I value that my ministry occurs outside of the church structure, on the edges, and draws on people from many denominations. But I struggle to find a faith community where I can lament freely with others, where a relationship to creatures and nature is considered essential, where the wisdom of the body and nighttime dreams can be explored together, where Sabbath rhythms are really honored, where women and men share power in life-giving ways for all, and where the message is of liberation for the entire “kin-dom.”
And yet, somehow there is something in me that still keeps me rooted in the church. Her long tradition of mystics and poets and prophets gives me strength. The wisdom of her liturgical seasons and the gathering around bread and wine. The radical counter-cultural witness of Jesus challenges me to live with a deep awareness of the suffering of others.
In the waters surrounding me that day in the woods, I was reminded again of my baptismal call. I was baptized as an infant by parents who did not believe in the church or even God. For some reason they named me Christine which means lover of Christ. Somehow, I was called to this tribe by something greater and I feel a connection to it in my veins. Centuries of both beauty and horror dwell in my marrow, I must claim them all as a part of my tradition and the human condition. I must wrestle with it and marvel at it. Life is filled with ambiguities. Sometimes all we can do is be present to the questions of our lives and listen for how to live into them.
What are the questions Lent is asking of you? Do you hear any echoes of your baptism in this holy season?
-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts
(photos taken in the woods near the Hood Canal)