Lent. It seems like a quick trip this year. Because Easter is a “movable feast,” dependent on the phases of the moon, we will celebrate Easter quite early this year — March 27 to be exact.
Most years we have a few more weeks between Christmas and the beginning of Lent in which to contemplate various spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, spiritual reading, or service.
I recently learned that the Roman philosopher Seneca who lived around the time of Jesus endorsed a kind of Lenten practice with these instructions: “Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’ . . . There is no reason, however, why you should think that you are doing anything great; for you will merely be doing what many thousands of slaves and many thousands of poor men are doing every day. But you may credit yourself with this item — that you will not be doing it under compulsion, and that it will be as easy for you to endure it permanently as to make the experiment from time to time. Let us practice our strokes on the “dummy;” let us become intimate with poverty, so that Fortune may not catch us off our guard. We shall be rich with all the more comfort, if we once learn how far poverty is from being a burden.”
That is one way to think about it and in every other way poverty is a burden when one does not have a choice in the matter.
One Tuesday morning in February Ruth Jewell and I spent four hours volunteering at Our Common Ground, the hospitality ministry of the Regional Church’s new church start in Everett called Our Common Table.
Our Common Ground and Our Common Table rent space, a large sunny room with tables and chairs, from Evergreen United Church of Christ.
Four mornings a week Our Common Ground opens its doors to those who have no homes, who sleep in their cars, who need a place to rest, a phone to use, a clean pair of socks, companionship.
For these hungry and thirsty guests gallons of coffee are made each morning; bread for toast, as well as peanut butter and jam are usually in plentiful supply.
At Our Common Ground hunger and thirst, toast and coffee and peanut butter and poverty all mix together along with bad choices, bad luck, prison time, parking tickets, addiction, mental illness, abuse, a shopping cart filled with plastic bags and belongings, sleeping bags, blankets, layers of clothing and a sweet tempered dog.
And gratitude . . . As Ruth and I helped clean up more than one person shyly looked at us with sidelong glance and said, “Thank you for coming.”
This year my Lenten practice is go to Our Common Table on Tuesday mornings and sit still. It will be my practice to listen to the ramblings of confused minds, to hear the stories of addiction and violence and to also to notice the immense generosity of those who have nothing and offer what little they have to others: humbling to be sure.
Blessings + peace,
Pastor Neil Allen
I am blessed to serve as the pastor of Queen Anne Christian Church, an amazing community of wise and thoughtful people.