It’s so dry. For weeks many communities have been living with the reality and uncertainty of fires. The grass is crackling dry and smoke hangs heavily. For some individuals and congregations there’s a dryness in our lives. As people age and congregations decline, resources dry up and maintenance requirements loom.
As we journey through Lent yet again, the road can seem dry and difficult and the destination unclear. It’s a season to take a long, hard look at ourselves and our relationship with God and others.
I was intrigued to read of how one Canadian Catholic Church helps its congregation to experience both the barrenness of the Lenten wilderness and the new life of Easter. The large baptismal font where infants and adults alike are baptised is usually filled with flowing water. The soft sounds of water provide a peaceful backdrop throughout the services.
But on Ash Wednesday, things change. The font is drained and then filled with sand and rocks – dry and lifeless. It’s an indication that this is desert time, whether we like it or not.
For seven long weeks the congregation walks past the sand-filled font each Sunday. In the absence of the cool, gurgling water they are prompted to face the desert areas in their own lives – dried-up relationships, destructive habits, empty prayer, selfishness, pride, lack of compassion.
I suspect that most of us want to skip this part of the Lenten journey, to avoid making changes in our own lives and to avoid the pain and darkness of the cross.
For those in that church in Ottawa, they long for the return of the water, with its symbolism of new life and refreshment. At Easter the font is filled with running water again and there is hope and joy. Without the dry season, the gift of water would be less appreciated. As the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, as well as individuals, congregations and institutions, we will experience dry and difficult times. Our old patterns within the church are so familiar that we barely stop to check whether they are the appropriate ways of living out our calling to be disciples of Jesus, filled with love for God and compassion for others.
As I move around the Synod I am confronted again and again by small groups of people meeting for worship in large, valuable and often impractical buildings, not mixing with similar congregations close by.
While congregations bill themselves as welcoming, newcomers can find it hard to be included. Often it is hard for people to share their concerns and struggles – the few minutes of conversation over a cuppa doesn’t lend itself to deep sharing.
What will we have to let go of, and what will we have to do differently to meet the challenge of being disciples in 2013? Remember that dry and difficult is not the whole experience of faith. Renewal, rebirth and refreshment do come, if we are willing to follow the costly way of Jesus, through death to new life.
The theme of our Lenten offering this year is ‘Fill us with your love, show us how to serve’. It’s a prayer that we will know God more deeply and reach out humbly and generously to our neighbours.
I invite you to give generously to support projects in Tonga, with the Sri Lankan community, the homeless and the isolated. Enjoy the Rev Ken Rookes’ paintings (featured in this year’s Lenten Offering poster) which reminds us that simple gifts and humble actions bring light into dark places. No matter how dark the night, nothing can overcome the light of Christ.
I pray that through our Lenten journey we will all come closer to God.
Isabel Thomas Dobson