Dear Friends and Members of Messiah,
by Mary Oliver
The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.
Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.
The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.
Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
lay still and waited, wild awake.
Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.
Perhaps the first question we ask when preparing for the next six weeks of Lent is, “What will I be giving up this year?” Although this comes from a long standing tradition in the church of fasting and self-denial, it has come to mean more often than not, “What New Year’s resolution did I break and want to revisit for Lent?”. The problem with this approach is that it limits the focus for the next six weeks to only one aspect of a discipline that also includes prayer, meditation, and study.
Instead, this year at Messiah, we will be addressing the question posed by Mary Oliver in her beautiful poem, Gethsemane. “How do we balance Jesus’ command that we watch with him, with our human tendency to fall asleep, especially when we are challenged by profound and troubling concerns?” Or put another way, “How can we approach a deeper relationship with God by struggling with the harder questions and issues that confront us as 21st century Christians?”
Beginning with Ash Wednesday, March 5th, we will be offering an opportunity for the congregation to encounter God and one another through creative installations both inside and outside the church. In the church will be six paintings which will used to inspire reflection, conversation and prayer for the six weeks of Lent. The paintings are the work of one of our members, Nansi Lent, and we are deeply grateful for her willingness to share her paintings with us.
The Ash Wednesday liturgy will still have the traditional imposition of ashes on our foreheads, but this year we are asking that those willing to be a part of the process make a commitment to spend time privately and in community to engage in dialogue about how the art speaks to us. Each Sunday we will gather a group interested in the project to pursue a journey of exploration. Groups will meet between the 8 and 10 o’clock services and again after the 10 o’clock coffee hour.
Outside the church there will be an installation that is grounded in the understanding that there are things that haunt us as a people that can either cause us to withdraw from God or to engage more fully. In the story of Gethsemane we learn that Christ accepted his anguish, his fear, his suffering. He accepted his yoke and surrendered to God. He did not fight his way out, he did not ‘solve’ his problems, he accepted in his fully human incarnation. In this Lenten season, we are inviting people to share in feeling more fully human. As we come together this Lent, the invitation to engage these “ghosts” will help us to remain awake in our preparation for Easter.
Our services on Ash Wednesday, March 5th, will be in church at 9 am, 12 noon and 7:30pm. The 7:30 service will include music and an introduction to the six week project to come. However each of the services will be observed in the context of the call to reflection and prayer that is at the heart of what we are calling the Gethsemane Project for Messiah.
We hope to see many of you in the upcoming days and weeks. May the Gethsemane Project deepen our relationship with God and one another in our commitment to watch and wait with Christ.
Yours in faith