Ian Michalski served as a day camp coordinator and summer assistant director for Camp Fowler. Currently he is associate instructor of Spanish at Indiana State University.
Oftentimes when we mention the Lenten season to friends or co-workers, they have various responses. They may ask what we’re “giving up” this year, or perhaps they will offer a comment about how ridiculous it may seem to endure some self-imposed suffering for 40 days. These reactions are simplistic and incomplete when it comes to what many Christians know about the meaning and importance of Lent. But I’d venture to say that many Christians themselves also share similar thoughts when Lent approaches: “What will I give up this year?” or “Here we go again; 40 days!”
Today’s text reminds us of what Jesus asked of his followers in the days leading up to his death. He asked for their death as well. The seed must die in order to allow for the creation of other seeds. As followers of Christ we shift our focus away from our lives—all things personal and immediate—and instead focus on serving God and participating in the work of redeeming God’s creation. If we want to benefit from this experience of following the teachings of Christ, we must be willing to let go of our personal attachment to things, behaviors, practices, etc. We must detach.
This discipline of spiritual detachment is not unlike what it takes to have an optimal experience at summer camp! At Camp Fowler, we encourage—and in some cases, require—that campers, staff, and volunteers detach from various aspects of regular life (material and non-material) before beginning their Fowler experience. Such things include cell phones, technology, self-centeredness, material excess, and unnecessary waste. And what we ask for in exchange are all things that fall within what it means to honor God and God’s creation and follow in the way of Christ: live in community, care for creation, and simplify our lives by shedding our dependence on technology, social media, materialism, etc. Again, this detachment is a discipline and a practice. It is not easy. It is something we must decide to do, several times over, just as we ask of those coming to camp each summer. But when we are able to engage in this practice, we allow ourselves an opportunity for experiences of growth, revival, and refreshment.
If we reflect on the meaning of the word Lent, we learn that it comes from an Old English word for “spring,” and the metaphorical connections abound. Spring is a time of new growth, warmth, and coming to live again, which bursts forth from the frozenness, death, decay, and stagnancy of winter. Episcopal priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that Lent is “an invitation to a springtime for the soul. Forty days to cleanse the system…forty days to remember what it is like to live by the grace of God alone and not by what we can supply for ourselves.”* By reminding us that to follow and serve God means to die to the lives we live, Jesus is inviting us to pass through a sort of springtime, renewal and rebirth—all as part of a redemption and renewal of God’s creation.
So, as we continue through the rest of the Lenten season, I invite you to ponder a few things. How have you traversed this Lenten “springtime” of your soul? What does this concept of death and detachment mean to you? What is God asking you to do, or perhaps refrain from doing, in order to be a better servant? Lent is an opportunity for all of us. It is so much more than giving up chocolate or putting ourselves through some self-imposed suffering. It is an opportunity for renewal and rebirth. Again, consider the wise suggestions of Barbara Brown Taylor to listen to the nudging of the Spirit and to “decide what you will do for Lent. Better yet, decide whose you will be. Worship the Lord your God and serve no one else. Expect great things, from God and from yourself. Believe that everything is possible. Why should any of us settle for less?”
* The Christian Century (“Settling for Less,” February 18, 1998, page 169) available online here: http://www.clericeric.com/clericeric/2010/02/barbara-brown-taylor-on-lent.html
The 2015 Lenten reflections were submitted by staff, volunteers, board members, campers, and friends who have spent time at Camp Fowler in New York.
For this year’s Lent devotions, the days follow the Common Lectionary texts. Each author was invited to: 1.Read the passage.
2.Read a couple passages before and after the assigned day.
3.Do something else for the day, keeping the passage in mind.
4.Find a word/phrase/concept that connects with your own experience. Reflect on that.
You are encouraged to do the same.