The month of February contains Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. There are many ways we could characterize Lent in terms of repentance/penitence, spiritual discovery, or renewal, to name just a few. This Lent, you and I are about to embark on one of life’s journeys. It is anything but new, of course, to characterize the Christian life as a spiritual journey—Christian writers of all types, including Dante and John Bunyan, have used the journey as the means to describe the course of internal change as the soul seeks God in ever-new situations. This year, both our congregations and I myself will begin our journeys in search of how we can best serve God and live into our Christian calling as we deal with change. My change will involve leaving my beloved Downriver churches to move to San Francisco and a new life with my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild. For you, the journey will be from the current pastoral situation to a new form of parish life under a new priest and with new or renewed vision of the parish’s mission.
In its wisdom, the Church has set aside the season leading up to Christ’s Passion as a time for reflection, prayer, and taking stock of our lives. The express purpose of our Lenten journey is to prepare to move forward spiritually, to seek to grow towards greater maturity in our life in Christ so that we may more fully understand and embrace the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. In order to grow, we also much accept change. Jesus aptly likens it to a death experience:
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12: 24)
Unless we are willing to let go of some things, we cannot move on. Thus, one inevitable but crucial aspect of making any journey—including this Lenten spiritual journey—is taking leave of one place (parallel to the seed’s death) in order to move to another; leaving behind some parts of our self in order to allow other parts to grow and flourish. As we reflect on Christ’s journey to Jerusalem and the Cross, we also consciously sacrifice our old lives in order to embrace the new one which shares in Christ’s resurrection.
Nothing ever remains the same throughout life. But while changes constantly occur, we can be unaware of it – as we do while we age from one stage of life to another. As mature adults, we can recognize the dynamics of change, make deliberate choices when they arise, and (to the extent humanly possible) shape our own ends. I seek this Lent to enlarge my spiritual journey to include many other aspects of self-awareness and identity which constitute both our daily life and our life of faith. Since I have always believed that the division of our life into spiritual vs. secular is arbitrary and artificial, I want to take this season of Lent and use it as a time to take stock of the whole of myself, so that the upcoming changes will become the means for me to set out on the next leg of the journey even more firmly rooted in the Lord.
All journeys involve change—external and inner change—and change is always difficult. I desire to embrace this conscious choice to journey and to seize the opportunity of change to evaluate my current life and to prepare for my new identity in the next phase of my life. I will remain a husband, father, and priest; I will become a grandfather, possibly a retired person or someone who must adapt to another new context for ministry. In the process, I must leave behind nearly 30 years in Michigan, the friends I have made here, and the loving relationships which have characterized our life together in community. Nevertheless, I want to use this Lent to focus not only on the separation and loss, but also on the blessings I have received with all of you. My personal Lenten journey will also involve using my critical resources to assess and understand this move as its own sort of “call” or vocation.
The road lies ahead of us and the journey will begin. The diocese is there to support you and offer guidance. Jim Gettel, Canon for Congregational Life, will have the first meeting with those members of our congregations who wish to begin the transition on February 28th at 7:00 PM at St. Luke’s. In addition to making my own spiritual journey as described above, I will continue to be there as your priest through Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and beyond. Know that the spiritual gifts which have served our two churches so well over all these years are still there to serve you on the journey. I have often bragged that what I found so remarkable about Christ the King and St. Luke’s is the way in which ministry has always been a shared venture, with me doing what a priest was called to do, but knowing that so many other parts of the total ministry and life of our parishes were taken care of by you and all your gifts. I recognize your strengths and your faith, and with the continued presence of the Holy Spirit, I look for good things to come as our journey takes us to God’s appointed place.