Kaze Gadway is a lay youth minister to an outreach project for Native American youth and young adults in Arizona. Episcopal Diocese of Arizona
Julian of Norwich “Pray inwardly, even though you find no joy in it. For it does good, though you feel nothing, see nothing, yes, even though you think you cannot pray.”
Lent is not like Advent. Advent is a preparation of the celebration of God with us, God walking among us. Although Lent comes before Easter it is a season not like any other. It is forty days of intensifying holy practices.
All religions have holy practices. They are ways in which we discipline ourselves to be immersed in activities that expose us to the sacred. It may be putting money in a jar to give to the poor. Or depriving ourselves of food or pleasure to remind ourselves of what is really fundamental. Or writing down our faith responses in a journal. Or meditating on Holy Scriptures in a different way. Or spending time in contemplative silence. Maybe it is a walk in which you observe such awesome particulars such as a leaf. Or it could be intentional prayer.
I pray all the time. Usually it is in response to something. I am concerned for someone or someone asks me to pray. During Lent, I pray in a cycle to include all those who usually get left out of my conscious prayer life. I pray for those in danger, for those nations who are in social upheaval, for those crushed by the economy, for those disenfranchised in decision making, for those paralyzed by grief or loss, for those bruised in spirit in shame and guilt, and for those who have lost their way. How I feel doesn’t come into it. I go inward to hold up those that are disconnected and fragmented in their daily joy. I don’t usually have an outcome, like I hope everyone gets a job. I hold them up as significant to the God who dwells within us.
“What are you giving up for Lent?” asks a child who has heard this on TV. “Nothing,” I reply. “I don’t believe in giving up something like candy that I shouldn’t be doing for my health anyway. I do add things.” And I give her an abbreviated context of holy practices.
“I’m going to give up fighting with my mother,” says one youth proud of himself.
“That’s great,” I reply. “What are you going to do instead?”
There is a thoughtful silence in the small group. He says, “Maybe I should help around the house more. That’s what we fight about.”
Another youth who has been with us for a long time says, “Maybe you should clean a different part of the house every day. That would make it a spiritual practice, wouldn’t it?” He looks at me and I tell the story of Brother Lawrence again of finding the sacred in even the smallest of kitchen chores by doing it intentionally with reverence and dedicating it to God.
“We do that in Native ceremonies,” an older youth comments. “Every implement we use, everything we undertake is lifted up and prayed over.”
We talk about that in general terms in order not to reveal the particulars of confidential sacred ceremonies. They have all participated in some kind of intentional sacred practice, including helping at the altar in Church.
One of the youth confesses, “Sometimes I am only praying by rote. I don’t really feel anything.”
I assure him, “Feeling is not necessary but intentionally holding up some person or issue to God is. Like when we pray for Haiti. We’ve not been there but we can take the time to hold up that country to God. That puts it into our minds and it also declares that we believe that God holds this as important and worthy to be cherished.”
So we each make a list of things that we normally do not pray for and each holds up one thing. The responses are amazing—being bullied, car crashes on our interstate that goes through our town, stores that depend on the tourist trade, people dying without family present, forgotten birthdays, violence in homes, and neglected animals. Our prayer life is enriched just by listing these things. We decide to check in and see what happens when we do something every day that exposes us to the Holy.
It is an exciting season.
Blessed Lent everyone.