Into the Woods
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
On occasion I am asked how I came to write a faith column. To be honest, sometimes it’s a surprise even to me. A year ago, I answered an ad for a columnist for this paper. During my phone interview with the editor, Ben asked what my column would be about. I hadn’t thought that far – I tend to approach interviews as conversations, which might be why full-time employment remains elusive.
Thinking out loud I said, “I am political junkie; however, I believe you have enough opinions on that topic.” And then a thought popped into my head and out of my mouth, “How about a column on faith?”
There was a pause as I held my breath and Ben considered. And then he said, ‘yes’.
Like resolute hikers, we move into the mid-point of our Lenten journey and deep enough into the woods to wonder why we started. Perhaps we have even forgotten our destination.
Here, we are ‘hemmed in behind and before’ by a shadowy thicket of tree trunks. We look over our shoulder and wonder if it would be less taxing to turn back – return to the comfortable sameness of our lives.
“I gave up meat on Friday’s,” my friend said with an annoyed wave of her hand. “But I don’t really see the point.”
We are tired. But most disturbing, that curmudgeonly voice in our head tells us this journey is without meaning, representative of outdated liturgies, and a silent God. Certainly, we must turn back before we waste another minute or before evening arrives and the outstretched branches turn ominous and we lose sight of the path home.
There is a pillar of wisdom which states that what we give our attention to, grows. This applies to gardens, fear, and faith. When I volunteered to Ben that I would like to write about faith, I considered myself above average in what I knew, believed, and loved about God. Now a year of columns later, I understand how blithely naïve was that belief. But I also discovered my life’s purpose and passion. When a friend recently asked if I’d run out of topics to write about, I guffawed – yes, I guffawed – and said I’ve only begun to plumb the depths of my pursuit of God. Purpose and passion are the linchpin of any endeavor.
I would like us to pause here in our darkened woods. Not turn back, but pause and take stock. Why are we doing Lent this year? Are we moving with automaton efficiency from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday without paying attention?
Purpose is the attention we must pay. As we pause on the trail, let’s be very brave and ask why for that matter, we attend church each Sunday? Is it an obligation we fulfill and then like getting the car washed, tick it off our list of things to do?
If you are sleepwalking through the forest of your faith, stop. Now. It’s not too late give meaning to this expedition. But you must act on your own behalf, you must consider: what is the point?
Because in the dark woods we stand on sacred ground. This barren wasteland in our Lenten journey is where we encounter Jesus Christ during his forty-days in the desert before he began his mission to save the world. This is where we encounter God, who loved the world so much that he sent his only son to save us. This is where we encounter the Holy Spirit who will pray on our behalf when words no longer convey our desolation.
Let’s see our Lenten journey as a miniature of a lifelong walk of faith. During Lent, we vow to walk with Jesus to the cross. To stand by his grave until his resurrection on Easter morning. But afterward with a sigh of relief, we return to our lives grateful to have completed our task.
This week, let’s take thirty minutes to sit quietly with God. Ask ourselves honestly why we go to church, what we are seeking in our relationship with God, whether we are willing to open our heart to him, if we will embrace the adventure of pursuing our faith with the passion we reserve for love and career.
Let’s resume our Lenten journey with fresh perspective. Step back onto the path with renewed vigor. Before we imagined ourselves accompanying Christ like obedient disciples, now let us see Christ walking by our side – but not for a season. Through the sun-dappled forest, we understand this is not Lent, this is life. We are no longer alone, we walk with God with purpose and passion.