A strange Lent

Two silver jigsaw pieces, unconnected

This has felt like quite a strange Lent so far.

Usually Lent — that six weeks’ period between Ash Wednesday and Easter in the Christian calendar — I find a healthy time of prayerful withdrawl, a time of listening to God and myself, and trying to line the two up in my daily life and bit more faithfully. Most years I see (and feel) it as a bit of an oasis.

But this year is different. This year I feel quite unnerved, unsettled and for the first time in ages (probably since Dad’s death) very weepy much of the time. It feels as though some of the pieces of my life are slowly being rearranged.

It was only the other day when I gave myself the permission and space to think about it more deeply that I recognised that much of this is rooted in our up-and-coming move. It feels like a grief, in many ways.

In many ways I’m grieving and beginning to let go. This is my last Lent (for now) as a full-time, stipendiary priest, for example. And each time I go about things that I currently take for granted as part of my everyday life, I’m beginning to realise the significance of those events as markers in my personal and professional life; that was one fewer time that I presided at the Sunday eucharist, for example; or preached, or visited, or…

This is my second Church job in a row that I’ve been leaving at Easter. It’s at the same time both an appropriate moment and also a strange time to be leaving a Church appointment. The message of Easter is about new life, new hope, new possibilities, and about death of an old way of life. So in that respect it seems right.

But the resurrection of Jesus at Easter is also not the end of the story, there is still quite a bit to come, and (hopefully) we in the Church are still carrying on the story of Jesus today. So it feels odd to be leaving just as Jesus is returning with something new, and dynamic, and exciting. To be leaving at Easter feels oddly as though Jesus returns in glory and says, “… are you still here?! Off you go now!” It feels like leaving a film just as it’s getting exciting. “Aww… But I want to see what happens next!”

Lent is, as I’ve said, traditionally about examining our lives in the light of Jesus’s life and what God is calling us to be today. So this Lent for me is about saying goodbye to an old way of life not just in terms of my spiritual life, but also in terms of my job, and status (stipendiary priest), and life-style.

Which is not to say that I’m regretting that I’m moving. I’m really excited about this move. I’m really excited about starting at St Andrews on Monday 1 May. I’m really excited about this new post (Assistant Information Architect/Web Manager) and all that it will involve. I’m really excited about where God is calling me.

And it also not to say that I feel that I’m leaving the Church. I’m not. I will still be — and will always be (I think I must have been ontologically changed at ordination!) — a priest of the Scottish Episcopal Church. But as I’ve blogged before, I believe that society has changed so much that the Church needs to get “out there” again and live and work and witness and pray in the ‘marketplace’. Jesus sent his disciples out, he didn’t instruct them to find security in buildings.

It’s been a hard lesson to learn, in some ways, and I’m nervous about it. But that’s the nature of new beginnings. That’s the nature of new life, new hope, new possibilities. I just have to keep my eyes on Jesus, that’s all — and that’s not changed. Maybe this Lent will prove to be more significant and more enlightening than I suspect or can see right now.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

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