I observe Lent in different, non-traditional ways each year. This year I did a few small things to foster some soul-searching:
- I visited a different church with my family each Sunday. Mostly for a learning experience. Maybe to find out if there is actually a place out there with which I feel I can identify and maybe even belong one day. I experienced High Church services, heard sermons from female pastors and gay pastors, as well pastors that said things like, “maybe this is not what you believe, and that’s okay. It’s more than okay-it’s great. But here’s how I have interpreted this passage based on the following research, and I would love to hear what you think…” I really appreciated seeing how different people worship, meditate, find center and focus, praise, connect, and learn. But our adventure is not yet complete! There’s still a couple more places on our list we’d like to try, and a couple of places we’d like to visit for a 2nd time.
- I used 1 or 2 lunch breaks per week to try to read through Mike McHargue’s book Finding God in The Waves. Sadly, even though I got this book on Christmas I still have not managed to finish it. So that project is still ongoing as well. It’ not a long book, and it’s an easy read-“easy” because Mike McHargue is brilliant at communicating complex ideas in terms anyone can understand. But my life is so chaotic that I have to schedule reading time, and then force myself to sit down for 20 minutes twice/week to accomplish it… Then if I come across something I want to think about, I stop reading and let it sink in. So, it takes me forever, but I am almost finished! Just about. In what I’ve read so far, I have found tremendous hope and, quite unexpectedly, great inspiration to make mindful prayer/meditation and church a priority in my life again. He has methodically addressed every issue I’ve had with faith, church, and the Bible and has offered research-based, scientific evidence on the neurological benefits of belief, prayer, and even church.
“The Loving God affects the brain in ways that are remarkably different from The Angry God. People who focus on God’s love develop thicker, richer gray matter in their prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. This development offers them better focus, concentration, compassion, and empathy. They have lower stress levels and lower blood pressure, and it’s easier for them to forgive themselves and others. Over time, they even show less activity in the amygdala. […] Most religions involve an understanding of God that includes both love and anger. […] I find this neuroscience comforting. First, it helps me understand what causes faith to either go wrong or become a positive force in society. It also tells me that, contrary to some claims, there’s no scientific evidence that religion is bad for people. Saying ‘religion is bad’ is a lot like saying ‘eating is bad.’ Eating can be bad, but it depends on what you eat or how much you eat. Religion can be bad, but it depends on how you view God and how attached your faith is to an authoritarian system. […] Neurotheology shows us the folly of viewing the battle between faith and skepticism as a war of ideas. More than that, it shows us that most critiques of faith tend to be about the effects of authoritarian systems built on an Angry God model. When atheists criticize oppressive religious systems, I stand with them. But to paint all faith with the same brush is to oversimplify the matter, and this view ignores the insights of neuroscientists and anthropologists who find merit in healthy spiritual expression.”
3. I used my nighttime 10-15 minutes of TV/relax time to read William Barclay’s Gospel of Matthew instead.
“Christianity transforms life for the individual man. […] Christianity transformed life for women. The Jew in his morning prayer thanked God that God had not made him a Gentile, a slave or a woman. In Greek civilization the woman lived a life of utter seclusion with nothing to do beyond household tasks. […] In eastern lands it was often possible to see a family on a journey. The father would be mounted on an ass; the mother would be walking and often bent beneath a burden. One demonstrable historical truth is that Christianity transformed life for women. […] Christianity transformed life for the weak and the ill. In heathen life the weak and the ill were considered a nuisance. In Sparta a child, when he was born, was submitted to the examiners; if he was fit, he was allowed to live; if he was weakly or deformed, he was exposed to death on the mountainside. Dr. A, Rendle Short points out that the first blind asylum was founded by Thalasius, a Christian monk; the first free dispensary was founded by Apollonius, a Christian merchant; the first hospital of which there is any record was founded by Fabiola, a Christian lady. […] Christianity transformed the life for the aged. […] Christianity transformed life for the child. […] Anyone who asks the question: “What has Christianity done for the world?” has delivered himself into a Christian debater’s hands. There is nothing in history so unanswerably demonstrable as the transforming power of Christianity and of Christ on the individual life and the life of society.”
This year, the time I spent observing Lent renewed my sense of perseverance to pursue spirituality without the need to have concrete beliefs. I have found peace in my doubts, hope in the unseen and have zero desire to NEED to claim absolute truth. The TRUTH is that there is merit in belief in God, prayer & meditation, and even following Jesus’ teachings. I do not need to know that it is true beyond doubt in order to experience it and reap the benefits.