The Joyful Journey

Bishop David Bard says Lent asks us to look at how we are out of spiritual rhythm, then helps us recalibrate.

BISHOP DAVID BARD
Michigan Area United Methodist Church

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. ~Matthew 11:28-30, The Message 

Wednesday, March 1 marks not only the beginning of a new month, but this year also the beginning of a new season in the liturgical life of the church. This year March 1 is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the forty-day season (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter.

Given the history of our country, and its current religious make-up, a number of Christian celebrations are part of our wider culture. Christmas is a national holiday, not simply a church holy day. As Easter nears, we will see chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks in the stores, and there is no religious requirement to purchase these.

Lent, however, is not deeply ingrained in our culture. Sure, there are restaurants that advertise fish more frequently during this time, but beyond that, the wider culture pays little attention. There is no sale on ashes, and no widespread displays of prayer beads or even prayer books. Card shops don’t market greetings for a holy Lent. Perhaps Lent has not “caught on” in the wider culture because it is typically a serious, even somber season.

Offering the image of dancing for the season of Lent, then, seems quite out of character, even odd. I have no desire to see dance lessons go on sale through athletic clubs or community education facilities. However, I do like the image of dancing as a way to think about Lent, particularly the image of dancing to “the unforced rhythms of grace,” as Eugene Peterson renders the words of Jesus in Matthew 11.

“I do like the image of dancing as a way to think about Lent, particularly the image of dancing to ‘the unforced rhythms of grace.’”

Lent is a season to be reminded that our lives can get out of rhythm. We live in a world where bumper stickers proclaim: “The one who dies with the most toys wins,” and we come to believe it and live it. We live in a world where kindness is mistaken for weakness, and we do not want to appear weak. We lose our rhythm because we feel we need to dance to the frenzied tunes of an overly busy culture. We get out of rhythm because even among followers of Jesus who “has broken down the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14) we find walls being rebuilt – walls that divide along lines of ethnicity, race, culture, class, gender, sexual orientation. Lent asks us to look at how we are out of rhythm, how we are tripping ourselves up on the dance floor of life rather than swaying to and with the unforced rhythms of grace.

Lent invites us to self-examination and also to recalibration. We are invited to find again those unforced rhythms of grace and dance. Lent is a time to rediscover how justice can flow like water and how love can blow on the winds of the Spirit. In Lent we are invited to listen deeply to the rhythm of grace, to hear the tune of God’s abiding love, a love that never gives up. Lent asks us to find rhythm as we rediscover the joys of silence, quiet, and prayer.

As you find new rhythms for your life and for your praying this Lent, I would ask for your prayers. Pray for your own life. Where you have been wounded, pray for healing. Where you have wounded, pray for forgiveness. Where you have turned away from the hurting of the world, ask for renewed vision and courage. Where you have neglected your own development as a unique child of God, pray for a fresh beginning. Where you have given in to apathy or cynicism, pray for a new spark of faith and hope.

“Where you have turned away from the hurting of the world, ask for renewed vision and courage.”

Pray for your church. Give thanks for all the ways your church has touched the world with the love of God in Jesus Christ. Pray that fresh winds of the Spirit will blow through your congregation. If you are a congregation member, pray for your pastors and staff. If you are a pastor, pray for your people. Pray for The United Methodist Church in Michigan. Pray that as two conferences come together it will be a time of renewal. Pray for our conference leaders. Pray for our district superintendents. Pray for The United Methodist Church across the world. Pray for the Commission on the Way Forward as it does its work. Pray for the bishops, and I thank you for your prayers for me. Pray for the world. Pray that the world may grow in compassion, justice, peace, love, and compassion. Pray that the world’s people might care more deeply for each other, and that we all might take better care of the planet that sustains us.

During this Lent please know that I will pray for you and will join you in prayer. May we all rediscover the unforced rhythms of grace. It’s Lent, let’s dance.