The Impetus for 40 Forts in 40 Days
The first time I gave something up for Lent was in 1998. I gave up Dr. Pepper. My dad laughed and said “You’re a Baptist, not Catholic. You don’t practice Lent.” That was true, but I thought why not. My friends at work were, so I joined them. And passing up that 3 pm Dr. Pepper HURT! And since then I have practiced giving something up for Lent. Or at least tried.
The year before last I gave up coffee. I don’t remember last year because I had just hit my third trimester and returned to a zombie state. Plus, you give up A LOT being pregnant. This year I have given up dairy since Lucy was about four weeks old. I am gradually now introducing dairy back into my diet. That basically means I don’t ask you if your dish has milk in it. I did consider giving up pork this year, which is Henry’s favorite food group. I’m not sure that it is so good for him. But I thought that is not the point of Lent. This is my spiritual practice, not his.
Then on Sunday, Eric suggested that instead of giving up something for the practice of Lent, maybe we could add something to our daily life. So in the shower, it hit me. I would make forty small paper forts, which I already make, as a form of meditation.
The forts are inspired by the small booths sukkots mentioned in our sermon on Sunday. Sukkot, or “booth” or “hut” in Hebrew, is a Jewish festival that began as a celebration of the completion of the harvest. Ancient Israelites celebrated the festival by building and living in small huts. Observant Jews now do the same, praying and eating meals in huts and booths made especially for the festival.
On Sunday, we had a guest pastor, Rev. Dr. Ballenger of of Baltimore. I did make it before the sermon started, but not much. And honestly when I sat down and saw that Amy wasn’t preaching, I thought I should have just skipped church. So I was surprised when the message struck so close to home.
First of all, Dr. Ballenger referred to the Andy Griffith Show. This sermon reference was a regular occurrence at my home church, where I grew up. Our pastor loved the Andy Griffith Show. And while I haven’t visited a lot of churches outside of Calvary and Friendship, I was taken aback. Valentine’s Day was the last day for Mike, the preacher at Friendship. There has been a vocal minority in the church, who have not been happy for a while now. And, well, long story short, our pastor resigned. Mike married Henry and me and led the funerals for both my grandmothers and my Aunt Cheryl. So I sat there, trying to hold my baby who wanted to jump and sing and crawl, and also hold back my tears as I knew that this was the last Sunday for Mike at Friendship. I had a heavy heart on Valentine’s, which was also Transfiguration Sunday.
Of course, I did not know it was Transfiguration Sunday until it was referenced in the sermon, but all I could think was wow… that is uncanny that this guest preacher is talking about Barney Fife today. In all honesty, I was hoping that meant Mike has to leave in order to return. (And I still do.)
Since I began attending Calvary, I have learned a lot about lay leadership and how to minister to your minister. If there is a certificate in minister ministry, I have come close to completing it. I may not have said or done the right things all of the time, but I have learned that sometimes you need to stand up and defend those who are trying to help you grow spiritually. So I spent time emailing mom, even sending her encouraging tweets from Reverend Run. I was very sad when Sunday came and went, as did the pastor of my home church, which my family has attended for multiple generations.
I really hate to paraphrase Dr. Ballenger’s sermon, since I was holding a nine-month-old while listening. But I think I got the gist of it. Essentially the sermon said that you may be right in what you are talking about without even knowing you are right. Just as you may be wrong. You just don’t really know. But in keeping with Transfiguration Sunday, if you think of God as a vengeful God, then you should consider a joyous God and vice versa during this season of Lent.
Since clearly I have no control over the situation with my home church, I began to think about myself. How does this fit in with me? Certainly I don’t think of God as a vengeful God. But more than that, I think of my spiritual experiences as being deeply personal. I frequently share them with my inside circle, but I try to hold back when it comes to the rest of the world. I have the ability to create pretty loose associations, which can be a little out there sometimes.
When I was in the eighth grade, we had a class discussion on religion. A quiet classmate of mine replied that he found religion to be a personal experience. After growing up in a predominantly evangelical small Southern town, I found great comfort in this. I am not an evangelist by any stretch of the imagination. I always found the passage about it being better to pray in a closet than on the steps of the temple as assurance that I wasn’t doing something wrong. And even though I don’t make it a practice to join Facebook groups, I was eager to join one that is named something like, “I still believe God loves me even though I don’t forward Jesus emails.” Those emails drive me nuts. Plus, I am pretty certain that Jesus wouldn’t like spam either.
So that’s it… I guess I need to share my experiences that evolve from this Lenten period. My plan is to create a paper tent a day and write a spiritual reflection to go along with it. I’m not sure what I’ll be writing about, or where this will lead. I am going forward without really knowing what I am about to say or create. I hope the structure of the forts will help me to shape my Lenten reflections, the same way the temporary sukkah shape observers’ spiritual experiences during Sukkot by allowing them to see through the scattered branches forming the roof with their eyes and gaze toward God.
I was searching for inspiration today and picked up The Gift – Poems by Hafiz. I turned directly to this one. For a select few of you, you will know immediately how perfect this poem is.
What The Hell
I always keep a secret.
All my words
Are sung outside Her window,
For when She lets me in
I take a thousand oaths of silence.
Then She says,
O, then God says,
“What the hell, Hafiz,
Why not give the whole world
Meet Copernicus: No. 1 of 40 Forts