Spring Cleaning for the Soul

Kindred in Christ,

A couple of weeks ago, I was grabbing coffee with someone who had never observed Lent and was curious about doing so for the first time as part of the U Gathering UMC community. They asked why people gave things up for Lent. They explained that as an outside observer they had viewed this specific practice as legalistic and based on shame—kind of like “toxic diet culture, but for Jesus!” And while religious legalism and fatphobia have certainly distorted the tradition of spiritual fasting, the healing journey of Lent is anything but these harmful practices.

Lent is the 40-day period (not including Sundays!) of “spring cleaning for the soul.” It is a time when we are invited to reflect and ask, “What things, habits, or norms have taken ahold of our lives in unhealthy way?” And so, some chose to detox or fast from things like drinking too much alcohol, scrolling too much on the internet, or anything else that seems to be negatively affecting or even controlling their lives. The idea behind giving something up for Lent is not to try to become more holy or lose weight; rather it is to allow ourselves more space to be made more fully alive in God. And after Lent is done, if we choose to return to the practice of drinking alcohol, or surfing the web, etc. we can do so with greater balance and freedom, having allowed the false hold and security that those things offered us, to die. “New Beginnings invariably come from old false things that are allowed to die” ~ Richard Rohr.

As many are already aware, our time of hosting weekly worship gatherings on Sundays at the Masonic Lodge ended abruptly last week. This was an unexpected end to a weekly practice that provided us grounding for the last two years. This was something that none of us imagined giving up for Lent, and yet here we are. And while the space was not ideal, and we were already looking for a new location to better fit our weekly gathering needs, I personally grieve and will miss the rhythm that space provided us as a gathering community. Yet that space was never our true home, nor was it our church. We, the gathering people, are the true church. And in having to let it go of a temporary home, we now find ourselves allowing more space for God to emerge a new beginning of greater life.

As we have mentioned elsewhere, we are in hopeful conversations in securing a new interim location that will better suit our gathering needs. We are hoping to have a new location by Holy Week and Easter. In the meantime, beginning Sunday 2/25, we will start hosting house church / small group gatherings on Sunday mornings at 10:30 AM in various members’ homes across the city, in lieu of one regular service. The idea is to gather in intimate small groups around tables, and learn how to be church in new / ancient ways—around brunch, potluck, spiritual reflection, song, and fellowship. More information and an opportunity to RSVP will be made available next week!
While it may feel like we are giving up formal Sunday services for Lent, know that we will still very much walk the journey of Lent together in a new way.  When we do gather again on a Sunday as one congregation in our new location, it will be as a more connected and more fully alive community in God.

Alongside you,

Rev. Paul Ortiz