>Lent and Love as illustrated by the Velveteen Rabbit

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“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

From “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams

I bumped into this quote via a Lenten devotional set using this book as the focus, written by Andrew Dotchin. It’s being posted this Lent here.

Although I read it early this morning, in my “coffee and prayer” time, it has stuck in my head all day long today–probably because of where my focus is this Lent. Every Lent is different. Some years, I haven’t felt like I had much cleaning up to do. Last year, I came to the realization that there were some parts of me that needed to be cleaned off down to the bare metal. I had decades of grime simply from the wear and tear , covered with layers of paint, that would need to be stripped down before re-painting, because I felt that if I didn’t, the paint wouldn’t “stick.”

I’ve done a lot of that stripping–not as much as I had hoped, in some places–but enough that there’s plenty bare metal showing. But here is where I ran into one of those twisty curves I blogged about in a previous post. My first big Lenten discovery this year is that I am probably not supposed to paint that bare metal, rather, my task is to shine it up and let it glimmer with the natural gloss that it is, and for it to develop its own patina, like fine antique metal work.

But what it means is I have to work with my barest, truest, most holy self, and it means giving up a large chunk of “who I thought I was.” I got used to the color of the paint. I thought on occasion, others were touching it up with paint and in reality, they were putting tar on it, allowing more dirt and grime to stick. Still others painted with good intentions, or I painted it myself, but the colors didn’t quite match, or the surface wasn’t prepped enough for it to stick well.

All in all, these are not bad discoveries. But they can become a bit confusing at times. Some are literally hidden surprises. Here’s another way to look at it. Imagine having a room in the house that for years, had bile green or baby poop yellow carpet. There’s always enough furniture and ample enough throw rugs to hide the carpet you don’t like. But now imagine stripping away all the coverings and finding a gleaming hardwood floor that got covered simply because at the time, it was the fad to have wall-to-wall carpet.

Others are rotten spots in the floor you didn’t know exist, and you stare at them and think, “It’s a wonder I didn’t fall through here.” Still others need minor repairs, and there are lots of places that aren’t worth fixing, and their minor defects lend character.

So, in this sense, it’s a different kind of Lent for me. It is a season of imagining what the room will look like for the great adventures of life yet to come. It’s about making this room hospitable for company. It’s about being real, in the way the Velveteen Rabbit yearned to be real, and about letting others love me until my hair is rubbed off. It’s about looking at less “protecting” and more fanning the flames of the imaginations of others, and inviting everyone over for S’mores.

I really believe when we do that, the flames of our own imaginations thrive.

>Shekinah and Sammy Hagar and Year C of the Lectionary

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I was thinking the other day about how we are back in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary again–what I call “the Luke year.” I was sort of sorry to see Year B–“the Mark year”–come to an end, because Mark is my favorite Gospel, but I’m grateful that we dovetail Mark with Luke. It seems altogether fitting that we follow Mark’s Jesus–a very emotionally human, but somewhat exasperated glimpse of Jesus–with the healing Jesus we encounter in Luke. That sequence reminds me of myself at times–irritated, exasperated, occasionally short-tempered and volcanically cross–but then I so often take a deep breath and see the healing that comes. My own “coming to a point of understanding” moves from someone more like Mark’s Jesus to Luke’s Jesus.

So in that sense, I am also ready for the Year B to Year C transition again. To spit out my anger and irritation and simply listen and allow healing, for all the various slings and arrows of whatever issues graced my previous year.

It got me to thinking about all the times in any of our lives where we suddenly noticed “healing” occurred. It hardly seems that healing is a “conscious condition.” It so often happens under the radar, and when it is noticed, it’s a little more like what Sammy Hagar sings in Van Halen’s “Love Walks in”…

And then you sense a change
Nothin’ feels the same
All your dreams are strange
comes walkin’ in
Some kind of alien
Waits for the opening
Simply pulls a string
Love comes walkin’ in

Somewhere, sometime, when we weren’t looking, Divine Love “came walkin’ in.” We only discover it in retrospect, when something happened that made us realize “We’re handling it differently.” Perhaps it is manifested in a moment that previously triggered our chest to tighten with the familiar feel of post-traumatic stress. It might be in a moment when we are re-telling a story that reminded us of how we had been profoundly hurt, and when we have finished the story, we recognize the telling of it was painless. Maybe we enter a physical place where we used to feel our “hackles” rise every time we entered, and we didn’t even feel a twinge on the back of our neck.

It’s the psychological equivalent of those moments post-surgery when we suddenly realize our scar doesn’t hurt anymore, or those times after a virus when the fever breaks and we say, “Wow, I feel pretty good!”

But the fact remains that somewhere, in our healing process, Divine Love came walking in, cleaned up a few odds and ends, and simply sat down in our living rooms to watch TV. Many times, it happens at points where it doesn’t feel like any sort of “healing” at all. We generally don’t get the luxury of “instant healing” that we see Jesus doing in Luke, but we do often get the moment of “instant recognition” of where Divine Love snuck in on her little cat feet and healed us.

That’s the other magical thing about the way Divine Love heals. She doesn’t do a hit and run. She remains in the house as our family member, so long as we simply acknowledge her presence and thank her for helping around the house.

Have you ever noticed one of the first places Divine Love walks in, is often at the time we are least capable of consciously manipulating the system–our sleeping habits? When we hurt, whether it’s psychological or physical, we don’t sleep in our normal patterns. We may not sleep as soundly, or we wake up at odd times. We have trouble falling asleep or back to sleep. Our dream life becomes weird or scary, or just plain shuts down and we become “dream impacted” with sleep becoming a glimpse of the darkness of a death without God.

But often, before we even recognize our own moments of healing, something starts happening in our sleep life. To borrow from the opening two verses of Psalm 126, we become “like those who dream,” and our waking mouth becomes filled with laughter, and our tongues become more joyful. Things that had stopped being funny are funny again. Something that normally might not scratch our funny bone suddenly becomes so comical we can’t stop laughing. These moments of joy and laughter are reflexive–we are not trying to be happy or make ourselves laugh. But it all was preceded by the ability to dream again, and the ability to daydream.

What I invite you to do in the beginning of Year C in the Lectionary is to simply hear the Gospel stories in Luke with an ear to the healing within them. Take whatever has been damaged over Years A and B, and simply lay it on the altar and let the healing stories of Luke marinate them. Just be sure to notice when Divine Love comes walkin’ in.