Being a preacher's kid, I am naturally slightly irreverent. I grew up knowing that the priest was my dad, and that what people thought was a moment of reverent pause in the liturgy might be himself surpressing one of this famous belches. The church where I grew up was right next door to our house, and I treated it very much as a magical family room. This irreverence stays with me, as part of my overactive sense of humour. I call the eucharistic vessels--the silver and glass cups and plates and pitchers--the Holy Hardware, and the priest's vestments the Godly Garments.
But also, I decided long since that I wanted no fence put between the sacred and the secular in my own life: that the Gospel is meant to be put into practice on a day-to-day basis, not left, revered and ignored, in the emptied church. I think Jesus gets lonely in there, left from Sunday to Sunday with little or no company.
These two threads collided--if threads can do that--last week, very properly. On Ash Wednesday I went to what will be, I think, my new parish, and got ashed and warmly welcomed, and took upon myself a few things to take on and cut back on for the next few weeks, until Easter. The next day, I was at the university Eucharist, the one my bloke and I go to every Thursday, and the celebrant dedicated a new Godly Garment (a Lenten chasuble, for those of you who care about these things) to God's service.
And I sat there thinking, oops, I got it slightly wrong before.
Lent is special; it is a set-aside time; it is a time specially dedicated to God's service. We need that. If I put all my small do-more-and-cut-back Lenten changes into effect, 24/7, they wouldn't be special any more. They'd become mere good habits, instead of something intentional, something that gets me to think about God with a certain freshness. Now, good habits are a Good Thing, but intentionality about God is an even better thing, and that really is what Lent is about.
Setting a handsome piece of purple cloth, declaring that it will be used only in God's service, is another intentional thing. It does not substitute for putting the Gospel into action; it does not replace being faithful in small matters and large. But the setting-aside act matters. It's old wisdom. It's important for reminding us about intentionality.
It's also important for reminding us of our humanity. I've given up computer games for Lent. I really should give them up, period; they're a terrific waste of time. I should be spending that time productively, or at least doing some tidying up and housework, instead of diving into FreeCell whenever I'm bored. Giving it up for Lent is a very good thing to do. But I know myself: I know that I'll tumble back into FreeCell with a sense of delighted gratitude just as soon as my giving-up is over. Is this a Bad Thing? In terms of time management, yes. But it's useful being aware of my own humanity, and it's even more useful to have a couple of minor sins that you're aware of and sneakily guilty about, but don't give up. If time-wasting is a rotten use of the time God has given me, it does have one important benefit: it keeps my natural arrogance and self-righteousness, my prudish and perfectionist streaks, thoroughly wrong-footed. I am a sinner, and I know that; but I also know to pick my sins, and Pride is worse than Sloth, any day.
I still don't want to set my God-stuff and my human-stuff apart from each other. That way lies the pious Mafioso, or the devout Islamic terrorist, or the observant Orthodox Serbian war criminal. I want God at the kitchen table, because that's where I spend most of my time.
But I also want to sit down with God in the good front parlor sometimes, away from all the bustle and mess; I want to put on some sacred music and light a wand of incense and finger my beautiful purple prayer beads, closing my eyes and praying, until I find myself disappearing off into the silence where ego vanishes and all there is is comfort.
I want *both*. And I want to live in the faint contradiction between them, the smiling paradox: we are all double-natured, sinners and saints, weaving the Gospel into our lives and looking for the set-apart places where we can be particularly Godward. It's not an either-or.
But I find, in middle age, that so very little really is either-or...