He Stands at The Doors and Knocks

It’s the church season of Lent, the forty days before Easter. This drawing is of Jesus getting ready to do the humble, dirty work of washing his disciples’ feet at the last Passover meal. At our church, we wash each other’s feet on Maundy Thursday to remember God’s desire to bend to our needs. I keep this image on my computer desktop to remind me that God understands what it is like to be human. He knows it’s a dirty business. He knows being human is to long to have one’s needs understood and met.

The forty days in which we remember Jesus’ temptations and death is also the time of year I ask myself what Lent means to me. Asking is usually about as far as I get in my observance of it, other than what the Lenten services at a liturgical church require of me.  This is probably because I am wary of Lent, or rather because I worry about the chemical reaction that might happen in my brain if my thoughts mix with it very much.

People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down
When you’re strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you’re strange
No one remembers your name
When you’re strange
When you’re strange
When you’re strange

When I was thirteen years old, these lyrics from The Doors were my liturgy. Liturgy means “the work of the people.” These words,  when I sang them, took my  mixed-up thoughts and worked them out of me so I didn’t feel so alone. Amen, I was hopelessly strange, and the world was a dark place. There was some relief in trying to accept the truth by repeating the last lines over and over again.

So in a way, things weren’t very different for me at thirteen with Jim than they are at forty-four with Jesus. I just want to be understood.  And I don’t want the one who does it to die on me. And every year, Lent reminds me that he does – maybe that’s why I dislike it.

But where did the lines of that song take me? Many times, deeper into a hopeless sense of isolation. I knew what happened to Morrison – he was in a graveyard in Paris being visited by depressed magical thinkers who believed the one who understood them might be something other than just dead. And even at thirteen, I suspected Morrison was forever immortalized by self-indulgence as much as by creativity: he had let down those who needed him. But there was something tempting and beautiful about his young death, and about going to the grave while you still have some magic to bring into eternity. Or into the inevitable state of being  just dead.

See how easy it still is for my mind to go there. So yes, I fear losing myself in the Lenten liturgy, which after all, is the work of the people, and not from the Bible, or from the mouth of Jesus, my immortal heartthrob who understands me.

I went to the Book of Common Prayer http://www.bookofcommonprayer.net/eucharistI.php to find an example of Lenten liturgy that worries me. At our church, we use Rite I for Lent, which is written in early modern English, or Elizabethan English. The contemporary English of Rite II is what we use during the rest of the church year. (Perhaps early modern English, and my seasonally affected aches and pains, make me feel closer to The Great Plague while I kneel in church waiting for Communion these days.)

And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us; and, of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.

This is actually about as rough as it gets for me. But except for that it’s an excerpt of a eucharistic prayer that keeps me kneeling for a long time, I don’t actually find the above to be depressing. God is almighty and good – even during Lent – a merciful father who seeks to share his son with us. It’s just that this is sharing is messy and bloody. But it doesn’t end with death, it ends in life. This self-giving of God through Jesus has been growing in my mind as a physical kind of love – like sex or birth.

And we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly beseeching thee to grant that, by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we, and all thy whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion.

Fatherly goodness. Those two words stuck in my mind when I heard them this Sunday. And after watching my husband spend a couple of days chuckling delightedly over uneventful video he took of our children as babies while they ate and crawled, I know I understand something about fatherly goodness.

And what the benefits of his passion are, for me, is the whole question of Lent. So after having given up coffee for three days (a substance which affects my brain chemicals in a good way), I gave up giving it up for Lent. Rather, I decided to take up the idea that Lent might be a time for rejoicing in fatherly goodness. That Lent might be a time for rejoicing in my insatiable need to be understood and cared for. That Lent might be the time in which a very human and magical man will not only wash me, but give himself entirely to me. I decided to embrace the thought that even though thinking about Jesus during Lent makes me feel needy, small, and even sad, feeling this way can be beneficial to me.

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