Tag Archives: Lectionary Reflections

When God feeds us

In dire straights

1 Kings 19:4-8 includes one of my favorite lines of angel dialogue in all of scripture:

“Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

The angel is saying this to Elijah, who is throwing himself a big pity party by not eating and hiding out in the desert.

Elijah is feeling pretty dismal about things because his life has recently been threatened by a very powerful woman: the Phoenician Queen Jezebel. (When I was in junior high, my religion teacher referred to Jezebel as the “Quicked Ween,” and that is how I always remember her.)

Jezebel has vowed to kill Elijah, and Elijah — frightened and alone — runs into the desert, hides under a tree, and asks God to take his life.

The gift of self care

What really hits me about this story is how God responds to Elijah.

When Elijah wakes, an angel has come to give him something to eat and drink. The angel says: “Get up and eat. Otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

The angel doesn’t give Elijah safety. He doesn’t say that Elijah’s life will be spared.

He also doesn’t give him a solution. He doesn’t tell Elijah what to do next.

What the angel brings to Elijah is self-care.

“Take care of yourself,” the angel is telling him, “because you have a long way to go. And if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the strength to get through.”

The text tells us that Elijah did get up and eat, and in doing so he was given the strength to travel for “forty days and forty nights,” which is scripture’s way of telling us he journeyed for a long time.

Who knows if it was some kind of super-food the angel brought him that sustained him for so long? Still, I think perhaps the lesson here is the wisdom of the angel’s message: You cannot give up here. You have to keep going. And you have to take care of yourself to get there.

So Elijah starts with the basics: he rests, he drinks, he eats.

Otherwise the journey will be too much

Too often we can be like Elijah, looking to God for the wrong gifts — for safety or solutions when there are none.

Too often we, too, need this gentle wisdom to tend to ourselves — our hungry and tired bodies, our discouraged and frightened souls — before we embark on long and difficult journeys.

When we fail to care for ourselves adequately, we find it is just as the angel has said: the journey is too much for us.

When we are caring for ourselves, we are heeding the wisdom of God, we are opening ourselves to receive enough strength to make it through the next leg of the journey. When we give ourselves grace, we are truly stepping into the grace God has already given us.

Even if an angel isn’t the one to show up at our side with food and water and a reminder to rest, we can be that messenger to each other. That, after all, is part of what it means to be the Body. We take care of all our parts, especially the ones that are tired and hungry, because we are all on a journey together.

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Filed under Lectionary Reflections, Theology and Faith

Rend Your Hearts

A Holy Season

Lent has begun.

This season of ashes and repentance, a re-orienting back to God. A journey like a long, quiet path that leads to the Passion story and the resurrection.

It is one of the church year’s most beautiful, sacred seasons.

Last week a friend of mine, who grew up in the Christian church but has long since left the hallways of traditional churches, told me that she still celebrates Lent. It is a holy and special time for her, one that she marks faithfully every year.

When someone asked her what it is that draws her about the season, she closed her eyes and breathed, trying to decide how to express the spiritual depth that Lent represents to her. It is difficult to put into words the things that are most spiritually significant to us.

Returning not Restricting

These words of the prophet Joel, traditionally read on Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season, offer a powerful statement of the meaning of this time:

Rend your hearts, not your clothes.
Return to the Lord your God for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. (Joel 2:13)

So often people think Lent is a time for self-restriction, for giving something up, denying oneself pleasure. But I believe that focus misses the true core of Lent, which is about the heart.

“Rend your hearts, not your clothes,” the prophet writes. Don’t worry about whether your sacrifice looks sufficiently meaningful to the world. Don’t worry about whether you’re making it to evening prayer every Wednesday night. Don’t worry about how much meat or sugar or coffee you consume.

Instead, rend open your heart and offer your deepest vulnerability to a loving, gracious God. The word “repent,” which we so often connect to some kind of emotional guilt, simply means “to turn around.” To re-turn. To notice which way your heart is facing, and quietly, gently, re-turn it toward God.

My prayer for you, my friends, is that this Lent season may be a time of returning, not restricting. May it be a time of reflection and healing, a time of moving deeper into the heart of the God who ever moves deeper into yours.

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What does Lent mean to you? Have you ever “given up” something to celebrate Lent? If so, what did you learn from the experience? What are you hoping to explore this season as you rend your heart and re-turn toward God?

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Filed under Lectionary Reflections, Lent 2012: Rend Your Hearts, My Faith Journey, Spirituality, Theology and Faith

Following the Church Year

It’s Advent, my friends! This is one of my favorite parts of the church year.

A note on the lectionary

I write a lot of reflections on the lectionary readings around here, but I realize that the term “lectionary” might be pretty unfamiliar to some.

So, a quick explanation:

Many Protestant churches around the world use the same lectionary (set of readings) to determine which scripture passages are used each Sunday. There have been a number of different versions of Common Lectionaries over the twentieth century, but the version we use now — the Revised Common Lectionary — has been in use for about 20 years.

[Click for a list of which churches use the Revised Common Lectionary]

Each week the readings generally include a passage from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Epistles, and the Gospels. Since there are so many passages to get through, the readings rotate on a three-year cycle. (We’re about to start Year B.)

There are all kinds of good websites that list the lectionary readings and offer commentary each week. Here are some I like to use:

Over the past year, I have used the lectionary readings as my personal Bible study, and it has been a deep, rich, and challenging experience. I hope you will consider exploring the lectionary calendar as part of your own personal faith journey!

Advent: Waiting on God

The whole cycle of the lectionary begins at Advent: the season that precedes Christmas. That means that this week, the first week of Advent, is actually the first week of the whole church year.

This Advent, I’m planning to write on the theme of waiting. Advent is an expectant time of darkness and quiet. It feels very distinct from the time that comes after Christmas, after Jesus has been incarnated and born into the world. I’m looking forward to sitting with the scripture readings for this season and soaking up their blessings.

I hope you will join me in walking through the next few weeks. And tell me: How do you celebrate Advent in your household, family, or church tradition? What is your favorite season or holiday of the church year?

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Filed under Advent 2011, Lectionary Reflections, My Faith Journey, Theology and Faith