It occurred to me this morning, as I was remembering to be grateful that I could put on clean clothes, washed by me (since I can now descend to the basement) in a warm bedroom where the cat had been tidied up after by me (since I can now walk and bend over), that perhaps the reason I feel so removed and numbed to Lent is that I've just spent the winter there. A winter longer than Lent: somewhere around 56 days from break to first halting, unaided steps.
It's been a very lonely winter Lent. Two groups kindly came to my house for our weekly meetings, and I did start getting out to the church after the first month, although more for crisis management than for worship, so it felt like a massive mountain of struggle rather than any sort of peaceful pond of repose.
On the whole, though, I saw almost no one beyond my immediate family, the couple of people stopped by to visit, and my online book group. It's made me wonder:
Was it the cold and snow? It's been an awful winter.
Is it me? I can't discount that; maybe I am a compete drag to be around. Entirely and most definitely possible.
Or: Are we really so busy? There have been long periods of time in the past few years, in the darkness of loss and after now two major surgeries only two years apart, not to mention my work 1.5 hours from home, when I have been painfully aware of my inability to do my share of caring for family and friends who had problems of their own. But I figured that others were picking up the slack; we all have periods of time in our lives when we are more or less able to tend to needs beyond our own. But . . . maybe not.
One of the major aspects of ministry in Small Rural Church was the Ministry of Visiting. I was surprised ~ very surprised, given my own experience of large program-oriented churches ~ that people much preferred me to spend my time journeying from homes to hospitals to nursing facilities to assisted living so that I could hang out with them, rather than planning and delivering beautifully designed educational and spiritual growth programs.
There was a gentleman who had a massive stroke shortly after my arrival there, which left him almost completely disabled and a permanent resident of nursing care. My ministry to him often consisted of stopped by to watch portions of absolutely dreadful television shows and movies with him. I would offer wry commentary and he would laugh and nod his head in agreement.
There were people who warmed up to me after long days spent sitting in hospital waiting rooms together, people who never came near any classes I tried to offer. There was one lady who said, "Those are really good questions!" when I pushed her husband's heart surgeon for clearer answers. Never once did she comment on the "really good questions" on which I preached Sunday after Sunday.
There were ladies in their nineties who cried when I left. They couldn't get to church anymore, but they could invite me to assisted living lunch and dinner, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.
It's becoming more evident to me now how many people live in a sort of permanent Lent. I don't know why I'm surprised; I've been doing it myself for five years. But this particular detour into a deeper version is causing me to rethink my priorities in a big way. I'm not entirely up to much in the way of visiting just yet, although I've been to funeral home and funeral mass and hospital and hospice in the past few weeks. But I think I will keep my own extra layer of early 2014 Lent in mind as I re-focus on the future.