Traveling together through Lent

Traveling together through Lent

Growing up Southern Baptist, Lent wasn’t a really big deal. For us, the holy action didn’t start until Maundy Thursday of Easter week.

As I got older, we got a little more ecumenical and a lot wiser.We started observing Ash Wednesday and having events like lunchtime lenten services. What I’ve learned is that the more I am faithful in this season of preparation, the more meaningful Easter is for me.

There is scholarly disagreement on the actual origins of Lent. A quick Google search will bring up articles as diverse as directions for fasting to explanations as to why it’s a pagan observance shunned by true Christians.

For many of us, Lent is a time when we call ourselves back. We call ourselves back to putting spiritual practice at the top of our to-do lists, instead of in the “if there’s time” section. For some that means more times in prayer or meditation or scripture reading. For some it means reading books that challenge, uplift and encourage their faith. For other is means taking specific actions, whether it’s doing something for someone or making a change in how we live our lives. For some people it means letting go of something… sweets, TV, Facebook or gossip.

For all of us, Lent is an invitation to let ourselves rest in the lap of the God who loves us more than than we can say. It is brushing away the cobwebs to see ourselves again as children of God – flawed and struggling and sometimes falling down on our faces… but beloved children nonetheless.

This year I’m offering a Facebook group, Heart Callings through Lent. Each day I’ll post a brief reflection and you’ll be free to respond, if you so choose. (It will be a closed group so that your posts won’t be public.)

Come and join us. You can read more and find the link here.



Music Breaks – and Heals – the Heart

I’ve been thinking about the power of music a lot lately, perhaps not surprising considering we’ve been in the rehearsal laden lead-up to today’s Christmas music at my church. But in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal a column by Anne Adkins gave voice to some of my half-formed thoughts, so I gladly share it with you.

Music Breaks – and Heals – the Heart

The King Moravian Church Choir was giving its annual Christmas concert for my Salemtowne community two years ago when its music broke, and then healed my heart.

I was sitting beside my friend when choir director Drake Flynt invited the audience to join the choir in singing the great “Hallelujah!” chorus from Handel’s majestic oratorio, Messiah. Alzheimer’s had tightened its grip on my friend who had enriched my life as my companion for over a decade. He no longer knew me or where he was or that the English language which his once-keen mind had commanded, was no longer his friend. But that night he stood beside me and, with his soul set free by music, sang every note and word of the bass part in perfect rhythm, diction and pitch.

Drake Flynt, who has his own landscaping business, has directed the King Choir for at least 30 years. His belief in God as Creator is the heart and soul of both his music and his work as a landscaper. Recently Drake and I talked about the overwhelming desire within the human spirit that makes us want to sing.

Drake offered this explanation. “I believe God’s Spirit is a thread that runs through all of His creation, the trees and the rocks and the animals, and that we need to own this. I believe that through art we can find that place that is beyond ourselves, that is deeper than we are, that puts us in touch with that thread of life. It is very exciting when we find that thread that makes us want for more. We’re being fed in a way we don’t know what it is but we get in touch with God through the arts or through meditation or whatever way.”

Drake’s thoughts on group singing made me want to rush out and join a choir. “When you are making music, you can’t think about the beans burning or the argument you had with your neighbor. You have to look at that page, you have to think about your breathing, you’ve got text, and you just can’t hold two thoughts like that at the same time. Music gets you out of yourself and puts you in the immediate moment of what’s right there in front of you and your expression of it. When you get to the point you feel that something is great, something is joyous about this, and I believe that’s the moment when we feel connected to God.

singing“So we do that on the individual level, and then it is multiplied and shared as we make music together. It’s the same with art and dance or watching a child at play. I think God is alive through what’s living, God wanting to express Himself and to learn about us and to be with us is through us, and it’s only through each other that He can do that. The more we can allow to go out, more comes in.”

Drake described this connection as “the joyful feeling we have when we tap into something deeper than our personas and is at the root of our lives.” He acknowledges that this connection to what he calls “the Life Force” is not the same for everyone. “Each of us has to find our super highway to what is, and for a lot of us, arts do that.”

I asked him about those times when it becomes difficult to establish this kind of connection. He replied, “There are moments when everything falls apart and we don’t have the answers and the world does not have the answers, and we have to rely on something besides our own resources.

“If you have already built this connection, you know immediately to go to church and sing or to call your friends or to sit down by yourself and listen to a certain piece of music or to do whatever brings you to that feeling of being connected to everything. There are situations like 9/11 that are so catastrophic, there is nothing to do but to sing.”

I have been thinking about Drake’s words this holiday month of music and how often music has built my bridge from darkness into light. My friend who sang with such assurance will not be beside me this Christmas. He died earlier this year. This December I will join others singing Handel’s “Hallelujah!” and feel the music take hold of my heart and open it to God.

Anne Adkins is a former newspaper reporter and columnist for the Elkin Tribune. She is a resident of Salemtowne.

Miss Me?

Miss Me?

While I’m normally fairly consistent in posting to this blog, it’s been a while since I’ve written. A bout with a bum shoulder limited my writing for a while.

One of the things that’s been happening in my life is becoming part of a new church community. For the last seven years I’d commuted from my home to my church in the city where I used to live. While I felt much grief in the move, it was finally time to settle in and put down roots in my own town.

The new church is not altogether unfamiliar. The more I visited the more connections I discovered: from childhood, college, seminary, my clinical training. I am now in choir with my sixth grade teacher. It took great effort on my part to begin calling her by her first name.

Renewed connections have made the move unexpectedly joyful. And yet, it has also been unsettling.

This is the first time in my adult life that I’m a member of a church that I did not serve in some staff capacity. I came from a church where I’d served as Associate Minister for six years and with whom I’d been a member for twenty-four of the last twenty-six years. (I tend not to do a lot of church hopping.)

I’m having to learn names – a lot of them. I look forward to a new directory so that I can study on my own. My first Sunday processing in with the choir I was full of questions. Which way did I go? I had to figure out where the chapel was. Heck, I had to figure out where the bathrooms were.

I often see people who are struggling with a lack of community in their lives. This experience of transition has reminded me of how intentional we have to be about creating community for ourselves. As we grow older, it’s easier just not to try. Formerly, while I still had to learn the names and faces of newcomers, I’d been in one place so long that church was easy for me. Now I have to start again. One of the dangers of growing older is not being willing to risk starting new.

I sometimes see people waiting for community to knock on their front doors. It doesn’t happen that way. We have to seek it out. We have to be intentional. Creating community is work. More than that, it is risky work in the way that getting to know others and allowing them to get to know us carries with it risk.

I’d been in one community so long I kind of knew where my place was in it, the niches that called for my particular gifts. I’m having to ask those questions all over again. Where am I called to serve?

Not asking isn’t an option. Being in community carries with it a share of responsibility for the health and life of the community as a whole. What am I called to do that will help make this community stronger? How do I balance my need to serve with my need to keep balance and rest in my life?

There are times for stepping back. I know that as well as any, having just come through a four year journey of caregiving that took precedence over every other commitment in my life. But for most of our journey, just going along for the ride isn’t possible. A community cannot thrive without the investment of its members. Showing up. Sharing gifts. Risking  knowing and being known. And we cannot thrive without some sort of community.

Places and gatherings and circles of connection that promise community are not always healthy . Part of finding community in our lives is paying attention when something does not feel right or safe, seeking discernment for unhealthy patterns.

Community is a framework of connections in which we can laugh and weep, which nudges us along in the path of our dreams and sits with us in our suffering.  A community may also confront us when we are reluctant to be honest with ourselves. We need community for, as God observed in the garden long ago, it is not good that we be alone.

I’ve written here of a church community but community can take many different shapes and forms. What does it look like in your life?

Where do you find community in your life? Are you intentional in seeking community and investing in it.?