Tag Archives: religious symbols

Teeny Tiny Lent

I didn’t mean to give up blogging for Lent, honest.  It just worked out that way.

I thought about giving up something big for Lent, even though the whole concept of the liturgical calendar is pretty much the opposite of the fiercely independent Baptist tradition I come from.  (Liturgy?  We don’t need no steenkeen liturgy!)  And, come to think of it, it’s probably not what you’d call a standard element of Quaker faith either, what with the pointed lack of symbols, rituals, and creeds.

I still feel a need for it, though – that sense of community that comes from knowing that a whole bunch of other Christians are doing this thing, at this time.  Granted, Lent looks really different, depending on who’s celebrating it – and that probably means quite a few of them are doing it right.  It ought to be individual, and play out differently in the faith journeys of different people.  Some people loudly and theatrically give up chocolate.  Some of the more traditional folks grumble and mumble and give up meat, while their more modern-minded cousins give up their favorite iPhone apps.  And you can always find a few students who want to give up homework for Lent.  (This rarely works.)

I thought about giving something up, thinking spiritual thoughts, and blogging about it, as many people seem to be doing these days.  I have loved reading their thoughts, but when I thought about doing the same thing here, all I could think of was that pesky verse about praying on the street corner in a loud voice.  For me, getting all holy and blogging about it was going to be the spiritual equivalent of standing at the corner of State and Commercial and hollering about what an awesome Christian I am.  Thankfully for my blog and the state of my soul, I frankly didn’t have the energy.

So I gave something else up.  It wasn’t this blog – that hiatus had more to do with several weeks’ worth of insane music schedule followed closely by a respiratory virus from the lowest pits of hell and a stomach bug which I will not gross you out by describing.  (You’re welcome.)  Instead, I gave up something small and silly that would register about a 0.001 on the Richter Scale of Sacrifice.  I did not have deep and holy thoughts about it, or at least not very many.  But I stuck with it, and every few days I thought, “Hey, it’s been a while since I … oh, yeah.  Lent.”  And I did think, “Jesus did a lot more than this.  That is pretty awesome.”  But that was pretty much it.  I didn’t have epiphanies or decide to give 50% of my income to the poor.  I just remembered, now and then, and I was thankful.

And really, that’s the point, isn’t it?  So maybe my observation of Lent was on a tiny, tiny scale.  Maybe next year I’ll give up something a little bigger, a little less silly.  Maybe the  year after that, I’ll be a better person and I can write about it.  Maybe those thoughts will bless others, and turn around and bless me all over again in the process of putting them into words.  But for now, I am just going to smile, close the door for today on my little metaphorical prayer closet, and try to keep that mental habit going:

“Hey, Jesus.  Thanks.  I haven’t forgotten.”

X Without Y

This morning’s church experience was a fascinating study in contrasts, and my only real regret about the day was that the two services I attended overlapped too much for me to go attend either service in its entirety.

In my work as a professional classical pianist, I work very odd hours.  Most of my school-related work takes place during the daytime, but much of my freelance work takes place in the evenings or on weekends.  Once or twice a year I get asked by a church to play something in a morning service, and this was one of those Sundays.

I started the day out at a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I’ve accompanied the pastor’s son several times, and he called me to play the other half of a two-piano Mozart piece that they thought would make a nice prelude.  The sanctuary was lovely, vaulted ceilings and ornate (but pointedly non-specific) stained-glass windows, and there was a palpable sense of peace.  There were still the jarring juxtapositions common to this denomination, though – I can never quite get used to the pulpit, carved with symbols of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, regular Buddhism, something in Arabic, a lovely yin-yang, the Chinese symbol for happiness, and the Unitarian Universalist chalice in the middle.  Even in the short part of the service I was able to attend, so many religious traditions were referenced that my spiritual head with spinning.  The pastor’s message started with “Oh my G–, it’s 2013!” He continued to make some good points about how number superstitions cause needless fear, but (silly me) I’m just not used to starting church with the Lord’s name being taken in vain!

Then I had to zip across town to catch the important business meeting at the Friends congregation I’ve been attending.  The content of the meeting itself was immaterial – it was the contrast to where I’d just been that captured me.  This, too, was a lovely building, but it was a different kind of simplicity.  Simple stained glass, wooden pews made shiny by years’ worth of use, no pulpit, no candles, no incense, no bells, no prayer bowls, no chalice, no vestments.  The business meeting was opened with silence, but it was a deliberate silence – we were not communing with the god within, we were asking God for guidance.

What struck me most was that for all their unexpected similarities, the core of Unitarian Universalism and the Friends beliefs are in stark opposition.  Both believe firmly in a deep commitment to social justice, the importance of community, the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and a certain flexibility of personal theology.  But the first service I attended was full of the form of religion – prayers, candles, a carefully humanist liturgy, symbolism in everything from the bells to the pastor’s vestments, and the traditional Chinese prayer offered next to the traditional Orthodox Christian prayer candles. The second service I attended was full of God.

Given the choice of religion with hardly any God, or God with hardly any religion, I’ll take the second option any day.