Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lenten Voices: On losing the rituals of loss

by John Sutherland

Two weeks ago, my laptop blew up, and with it, all of my notes for my next three Lenten blog entries. Since I’m over 40, and forgetting is just what I do, I can’t recall even the general subject matter of any of them. I just have the vague sense that they were brilliant, beautiful, and perhaps gone forever.

This blog has been a wonderful Lenten discipline for me, so this small loss is still a loss I feel. More importantly, I see it as a dot within a larger pattern. There’s a recurring theme in my spiritual journey seems to go like this: just when I form a ritual to deal with life’s hardships, small or large, so I can be all peaceful and joyful about it, something happens to the ritual itself. The world runs it over with its virtual truck.

And I think I sometimes recognize the driver of that truck, and it’s God. (It’s almost as though God and religion are two different things. Ya think?)

I have wildly ambivalent feelings about religion. It most often seems to be focused on people, not at God. It’s an attempt to codify reality, and reality is too complex to be codified. This is why I’m part of a religious community that’s not very dogmatic: dogma shoves God into a box, and God will not be so shoved. Here, at least, God stands a chance of getting some focus, even with all this religion around.

I could use this argument to judge my fundamentalist sisters and brothers, but that would be ignoring the huge plank in my own eye. The point I’m getting to is, God takes care of me by not letting me get attached to anything too much, even my religion. As soon as I fall in love with Lent, it’s prone to blow up. And it’s probably for my own good.

And so, I’m in this cycle: I think I learn something, I make a little progress, and then I get a hard lesson that I still have more to learn. But that cycle, ironically, is why I need a religious community, a regular religious practice. In this flux and uncertainty, I need a place of continual renewal, somewhere I can scrape myself up off the ground and carry on. And yes, it does focus largely on people. And one of those people is me.

I guess I’ll have to keep coming back.

John Sutherland has been a member of St. Paul's for twenty years. He is sometimes a member of the choir, has done time on the Vestry, and generally tries to bake enough communion bread to keep his hands from idleness.

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