Prayer, Fasting and Contemplation
It might just be me, but I think I wasn’t alone in appreciating this year’s Annual Meeting. It felt so relaxed, even convivial. I usually laugh, “there’s just something about congregational meetings that brings up the tension and brings out the demons.” But not this year — our annual meeting was smooth, easy, even relatively short.
After a series of years where we had weighty decisions on our agendas (leading into the Capital Campaign, then decisions about where to focus our dollars and efforts on buildings, and finally the commitments we needed to make for the new building…), this year was a breeze! We had a full election slate, a balanced budget and no major vote or any issue with significant tension.
Julie, I think it was, said, “The delay in funding for the new building isn’t a bad thing it turns out. If we’d gotten funding right away, we’d be crazy right now making plans for interim solutions during construction; as it’s worked out, we get a breather. And a chance to step back and take stock, even decide what else we want to be doing as a church.”
So instead of all the agita or disagreement of a major issue or decision to be decided, we had an exercise at the end of the Annual Meeting after the other business. We chose among a host of longer term projects we might want to work on looking towards the Jubilee Year of 2027 when the church will celebrate its 300th Anniversary. In order to give out choices some more heft, to make them mean more, we were also asked to choose what project we might like to help with. There are always a lot of good ideas, but if we don’t have people to do the work involved in even the best goals, then that’s a sign for us that they are not goals for us right now.
It was a fun exercise with a palpable sense of excitement, and consequent energy filling the room.
The Worship Leadership Group, thinking ahead to Lent (which starts this coming week on Ash Wednesday!), is inviting us to continue doing things together. In my mind, their plan is a natural next step from the spirit and the joy of our Annual Meeting.
But the Worship Group is also inviting each of us to make a commitment that will help us prepare for the gift of Easter. Lent is the 40 day period of preparation that in the early church catachumens used to get ready for their baptisms on Easter. Since then, Lent has become a period in which anyone can make some changes in their lives such that we might be more focused on God for Easter. We break our patterns (and unconsciousness and bad habits) by taking on some new intention, in order that by Easter we will be freed to take on a whole new life. Or something like that!
Worship is inviting us to three: prayer, fasting and contemplation.
Prayer: you can pray anytime, anywhere. All by yourself. But we don’t always get around to our prayers. Or not as often as we would like. Or remembering everything in prayer we should.
So we are going to offer a prompt. Every Wednesday evening during Lent — March 4, 11, 18, 25, April 1, 8 — at 7 pm, Old First will host a “Prayer Meeting” call. Anyone who gets on the call, can share their prayer concerns and / or pray for themselves or others. In the end, Michael will make sure that all the concerns named have been lifted up, and we will close with the Lord’s Prayer.
Details for the Zoom Call will be shared as we get closer to March 4.
Fasting: There are all kinds of fasts. I have traditionally participated in a Carbon Fast for Lent. Last year, I tried — quite unsuccessfully — a plastic fast (only to learn that everything is packaged in plastic).
But we are talking of a fasting as in taking some food out of your diet. It’s a traditional fast for Lent. You might remember Catholic friends giving up some food. Or if you are old enough, not eating meat on Fridays.
We learned recently, by accident, that some of our own folks undertake a fairly significant fast for Lent each year. They don’t make much of it publicly, because in their understanding, the fast is something between you and God (and not to be trumpeted all around as some claim to your spirituality!).
Their fast is for the 40 days of Lent — from Ash Wednesday until Easter, except the Sundays. And each day, they don’t eat after midnight until dinner the next day, essentially a 16 or 17 hour daily fast.
The Worship Group is not asking you to go without food for 17 hours a day. (For some of us that would not be medically safe.) Or to go on a diet. Or to avoid chocolate or ice cream.
Instead, consider how giving up something good and absolutely necessary for our existence, like food, might open you to see how God is even a greater good on which our survival depends even more.
You might skip a meal. Or cut back on your intake. Or give up certain foods. It’s not so much the specifics as it is breaking the routine that something surprising and new might emerge.
The Worship Group would like to ask you to decide upon some form of a food fast that feels right. It’s between you and God! And then try to keep it.
Contemplation: Some of us at Old First have found Richard Rohr’s daily meditations very thought-provoking, faith-building and full of heart. Worship would like to offer them to you for a daily dose of contemplation. You may find them on his website; you may sign-up (on that same website) for the daily meditations to be sent to your inbox; and we will post them on the church’s FB page for each day in Lent.
It’s a short meditation. It just takes a few minutes to read. And you could sit with it, spend more time, contemplatively, considering what it’s themes mean for your faith and life.
The Worship Group invites us to share in prayer, fasting and contemplation in Lent. You could do one, two or three. Adapt each as they make sense to you and could function meaningfully in your life. Really, it’s all between you and God, right?
But it’s also something we as a church would like to do together as a church. I’m going to find ways in worship to affirm those who are praying and fasting and contemplating in anticipation of Easter. Who knows, we might even find ways for people to share some of their experiences or insights.
40 days and nights was the flood — in preparation for a new beginning. 40 years in the wilderness were the people of the Exodus — in preparation for a promised land. 40 days were Jesus’ temptations too — in preparation for his ministry. Join us as we turn with Jesus to Jerusalem, and open ourselves to all the passion, love and service, the grace and the glory.
See you in church,
P.S. If you have any questions about prayer or fasting or contemplation, please ask me!