This week, the Christian season of Lent began. Ugh. Lent can be so somber and serious and gloomy. Last year, I didn’t want to place myself in that frame of mind. I was experiencing grief and self-doubt and loneliness, and felt that an extended period of reflection about self-denial, Christ’s suffering, and the sinful condition of humanity might pull me into an unhealthy depression. Also, I questioned why I should seek silence and solitude when I was already experiencing too much of it. I felt isolated.
This year is different for me. Once again, I’m entering the season with a grieving heart. I’m mourning the death of my cousin. But I do not feel isolated. I am not self-doubting. This January, I spent four continuous days with mentors and peers in academia who poured love and wisdom and inspiration into me. The women in our group sought each other out and had honest and authentic conversations about the successes and struggles in our lives. We affirmed self-care. We affirmed milestone birthdays. We affirmed our bodies, despite the physical limitations we sometimes feel. We affirmed the tough decisions some had made, the transformations some were pursuing, and the exciting opportunities that had developed for others since we last met over the summer.
It was a powerful experience, but there was pain, too. We confronted fear, rejection, anxiety, exhaustion, and frustration. I felt blessed—divinely gifted—to have an opportunity to speak honestly with my sisters in the spirit about the people and issues on our hearts: challenges with students, systemic racism and sexism, menopause, children, research questions, financial decisions, romance, and health.
I was on an emotional high from the power that comes from being truly known and loved and I was reveling in the power of that love. And then my cousin died. And then I went back to work. And Lent loomed again like a dark cloud in my day planner, goading me to accept its ashes and fasting and penitential ethos. But I’ve decided Lent will be different this year.
For 2016, I’ve resolved to live my days and weeks attuned to the seasons of the church year, also known as the liturgical calendar. I have no obligation and little external pressure to do so. For most of my life, I have attended churches that have not paid much attention to the church calendar aside from the weeks leading to Christmas (Advent) and the days leading to Easter (Holy Week). More recently, though, I’ve been reading and reflecting and talking with my sister about how to create a joyful, spirit-filled, and sustainable rhythm and pattern to our hectic lives. Now I see the church year as a way to honor the periods of expectation, joy, wonder, preparation, suffering, growth, and day-in-day-out pursuit of faithfulness in my life and my church alongside the life of Christ.
So this year for Lent, I’m turning my attention to God and to myself at the same time. I will focus on nourishing my soul and building and sustaining a connection with my community. I believe this honors the intention behind traditional practices associated with Lent: fasting, prayer, and acts of service and generosity. I’m scaling back distractions to focus on (or find) what really matters. So what will my Lenten journey include?
- I will dedicate more time to prayer each day, but I will also dedicate time to talk to the friends and family I miss so much.
- I will acknowledge and honor the grief I already feel, but I will also attend to the grief the others in my family are feeling.
- I will reach out to my mentors for guidance and support while actively mentoring and encouraging the two young women who chose me as their senior thesis adviser.
- And finally, I’ll be disciplined about showing up. I’ll make a concerted effort to be physically present in my church community and in my friends’ lives. I will accept and extend invitations.
I don’t know where this will lead, but I’m off to a promising start. This Tuesday evening as I left work and started weighing my options for dinner, I called a friend and asked her if she was attending a pancake supper at our church. I had never before in my life attended a church pancake supper. (I didn’t even know that was a thing churches do until last year!) Yet when my friend said she was attending, I decided to show up, too. Soon after, I found myself in the company of amazing women. We had authentic and meaningful conversations about work, finding time for family, children, nursing babies, good coffee and tea, art, and coping with grief and guilt. Once again, I felt blessed. The people around me are a gift of God and I need to cultivate my relationships with them.
I’m looking forward to a season of reflecting and connecting.
Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.
Categories: Academy, Christianity, Community, Faith, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Theology, Friendship, General, Grief, holiday, Lent, Relationships, Seasons, Sisterhood, Spiritual Journey, Women and Community, Women in the Church, women of color, Women's Spirituality