Get Up And Lent!

Or: My Season of Physical Prayer

by Charlotte Long, Youth Ministry Coordinator

My mother has always been the movement of my church life: the breeze among the pews, the rustle of scarves during prayer. I think it's important for Episcopalians to know at least one person like that. Here's what I mean by that: I grew up Episcopal, with all my Swedish relatives and me sitting in the back row of the church, not wanting to assume we deserved a row closer to the altar. We stand up and sit down, as the bulletin instructs. We know the hymns by heart; I memorized the Nicene Creed at a young age just by virtue of the fact that it was the same set of words every Sunday. And the bells always toll in the same quiet moment of the liturgy, as the priest displays the bread and the wine. I learned to love tradition in this way. Eventually, that became my own personal path to loving church, and, without realizing it, loving God.

But once in a while, my mother does something differently. If she is feeling particularly moved by the Holy Spirit, she lifts up a hand with her eyes closed. Or if a sermon was particularly moving, she would murmur, "Amen" and nod her head. Little things: yet as a child, I was mortified. Mom and her best friend who has similar inclinations always giggle that they really are Baptists at heart, as Episcopalians in the front pews kindly look over their shoulders to see what the flurry of activity is in the back row.

Let me be clear; I am always going to be Episcopal; I love Episcopalians so dang much; in my moments of vanity, I think we are the best and that we have the answer for everything. But in this Lenten season, I think there is something to be said for physicalizing my internal life the way I see my mother does; and for molding my spiritual life into an external, bodily practice. I mean, that's what's so Holy and Terrifying about Lent, right? We are asked to give up something or add something to our lives for 40 days and... uh-oh... our spiritual practices have to become real life? Is this going affect my daily routine?

In Sunday school, we've been encouraging the kids to consider the adding-on version of Lent. Lent, after all, doesn't have to be all about Lack, Lack, Lack. For me, it's become about how I decide to amp up my prayer life and make it tangible for a few weeks; how I prepare my secret Holy Self for Jesus' story; to make myself worthy of hearing the story, again.

That's why this Lent, I've added physical prayer to my life. NO, I don't mean Hot Yoga (although, what do I know?). Specifically, for me, this means getting on my knees, like a little cartoon child beside my bed every night right before I go to sleep. It's actually been lovely so far. I think the fact that I'm getting my body involved in the process takes me right back to my younger self, when I never worried about whether I was praying correctly or not, and God was just someone I could chat with. My mother always talks about how her godmother used to tap their bums whenever she found their kneeling to be less than satisfactory (I do this, too: I half-sit on the pew so that kneeling can feel like a little nap). As a little girl, I never understood this reproach. I thought, "How puritanical!" But now, I think I get it. It's about saying, I WANT that preparation in Lent; I want it enough to feel it spiritually and physically; I want it more than I want to be comfy in my body; I want it more than I want an easy-to-handle routine.

This is also the core reason why the Summer Mission trip is so important to me, and why I think it should be important to our youth. Whether we realize it or not, the sweet-hard labor that the work trip gives us - the getting up early in the morning, the floppy PB&J sandwiches, and the sweating, sweating, sweating - that IS prayer made manifest. It is our relationship with God physically felt in our aching arms, in our tired bodies. And what a blessing to actually feel that.

We are so thankful for all of you who donated your time and cash to the High School Mission Trip this past Shrove Tuesday! Our trip to Joplin, Missouri, would not be possible without your generosity!