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Letter from Amy: February 21, 2024


Enclosed Field behind St Paul's Hospital, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

Dear Incarnation,


Lent is here! On Sunday, we hung new art behind the altar, the same image as above. Van Gogh sketched and painted multiple works depicting the field behind the Saint Paul asylum after admitting himself in 1889 in a season of deep mental anguish. The deep furrows, the empty field, the sun rendered in bleak streaks of gray — it's a picture of wilderness.


But it's also a picture of hope, long buried and hidden from our eyes. Deep beneath that furrowed and barren soil, new life is patiently working its way toward the light of the sun. Henri Nouwen has called Lent a season in which winter and spring are fighting for dominance; I think about that every year at this time. And Van Gogh himself once wrote in a letter to his brother Theo:


"One doesn't expect out of life what one has already learned that it cannot give, but rather one begins to see more and more clearly that life is only a kind of sowing time, and the harvest is not here."


Lent is an intentional kind of sowing time. Through our fasting, prayers, and alms-giving; through our Sunday silences and scriptures and penitential liturgy; through our songs of lament and longing: we acknowledge all that life cannot give. And we sow seeds of hope in the far-off harvest of God's kingdom.


This Lent we are preaching on "Encounters in the Wilderness." In one way or another, all of the Lenten readings from the Sunday lectionary describe such an encounter. These texts are thick, challenging, and sometimes uncomfortable — they emphasize judgment and holiness and atonement and covenants. Yet in those most uncomfortable places, they also elicit our wonder. The God who is just and holy and other is also relentless in mercy and abounding in steadfast love toward his wayward creation.


What happens when unsuspecting people meet a holy God in a wilderness place? What will happen to us as we meet this same holy God in the wilderness season of Lent? Encountering God changes us. It stirs new possibilities within us. God's relentless mercy and steadfast love draw us toward repentance, forgiveness, wonder, and awe.


There are many opportunities for encountering God in the wilderness of Lent:


  • Our Midweek Eucharists begin this week, and we welcome everyone to come and be nourished with the bread and wine in a quiet, reflective service. The Eucharist begins at 12pm and lasts about 30 minutes. The sanctuary will remain open for silence, prayer, or confession. We are partnering with Coracle to offer these Eucharists, and you'll see different clergy leading each week — it's really a joy to share ministry around the table.

  • We are always available to hear confessions, and Lent is an especially appropriate time for this (very non-scary) rite. Josie wrote a fantastic blog about making a first confession last year that includes several preparation resources. Although written for children, many of our adults have appreciated it! To schedule confession or learn more about it, email me or Katie, or simply show up some Wednesday in the Greenbrier sanctuary between 12:30-2pm.

  • Our Lent retreat was canceled due to forecast snow. The snowstorm was a bust, but the retreat is still on! The new date is Saturday, March 16, from 9am-12pm. Location TBD. “We Rejoice in Our Sufferings”: Learning from the Witness of the African Church: Why is it that those who have experienced tremendous suffering can also carry with them great depths of joy? What are some of the reasons for resiliency of faith seen in those who have walked through great pain but still wholeheartedly affirm the goodness of God? During this retreat we will get to know a community of Christians living in extreme poverty in Nairobi, Kenya. Through listening, prayer, and contemplation, we will learn from their resilient faith and personal experience of God’s presence. Led by the Rev. Dr. Erin Clifford-Riese on Saturday, March 16, 9am-12pm. RSVP here!

  • On Sunday, we'll have white paper and post-its available in the sanctuary so that if you hear anything from God in our time of silence (2 minutes this week), you can write or draw it on a post-it and attach it to the white paper — anonymously, and only as you feel comfortable. This is an opportunity for corporate listening and corporate discernment; I am hopeful and expectant for how God will move in our community in this season.

  • I preached about baptism and the flood on Sunday. If you'd like to learn more about the meaning of baptism, even if you were baptized decades ago, we're offering a class on Zoom two Saturdays in Lent. The first is this Saturday, Feb 24, from 2-4pm. Interested? Email Katie or Josie.


Encountering God right alongside you in this season,


Amy

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