Now is the season of Lent. Depending on your religious denomination and particular church, Lent can be observed ritually, automatically, religiously (literally!), casually, or not at all.
I didn't grow up in a Lenten-observant church. It was talked about casually, and the Holy Week itself was absolutely vital to us... Australia doesn't have the bee in its bonnet about seperation of church and state that the US does. They're not afraid to have a 'Christian' event as a national holiday, so we were free to fully and solemnly observe Good Friday every year. More about that closer to the day. That's still six weeks away. The point is, that I grew up celebrating Easter for a period of one week, from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday. Some people in the church 'did' Lent, but it wasn't expected.
The little church we went to when we moved to the US shocked me. While our pastor believed in periodic periods of fasting and prayer, he didn't tie them into the official church calender. He fasted in January, or when he felt called to it later in the year, and encouraged the rest of the church to join him, but it was nothing to do with any particular 'season'. The Easter season itself lasted one single day. It began and ended on Easter Sunday, and even then it seemed to be almost irrelevant to them. I wondered whether ALL American churches were that unobservant. After a couple of years, I discovered the local Methodist church and I was able to go back to my lifelong practice of going to church at lunchtime on Good Friday and spending the afternoon in solemn prayer and reflection. Church members were encouraged to observe Lent, but it really wasn't something I was comfortable with or understood, so I let it go.
Our current church is the most observant I've been to. Last year was our first Lent with them, and the first time I felt drawn to try to give something up for Lent. I surrendered my recent obsession with Facebook games and made it a whole four weeks before my life got too stressed and I retreated back to the games to survive. This year I haven't felt called to give anything up for Lent. I'm not physically able to fast, I don't care about television enough for giving it up to be a sacrifice, and I'm too busy working for the church to really have time for anything else give-up-able. Okay, I COULD give up icecream or chocolate, but I know I wouldn't make it more than a week. Seriously, instead of subtracting from my life, this year I've been feeling the pull to add to it instead. All week I've been feeling like I need to be physically on my knees before God. Is that because it's Lent? Because I'm so much more involved in church leadership, and have so much emotionally invested in our church, and I'm passionate about trying to make it the best possible place for us all? Or just because God is calling me? It doesn't matter. I need to listen to Him and to do what I'm told. And right now I'm told to pray...
I used to kneel in prayer every Sunday during church for the length of at least one of our songs of worship. If I was particularly moved, I stayed longer, or went back to that altar at the end of the service when we had our prayer time and I could stay as long as my knees would bear. (we treated the whole stage at the front of the church as being 'the altar'... It wasn't designed that way on purpose, but the flat edge of the stage made a really good place to kneel and pray, and we put kneeling cushions in front of it to make it more obvious that we were invited to go up there and use it.) Kneeling on prayer wasn't something I was brought up doing, but it was important to Pastor Leon, and I found that it was very meaningful to me once I was actively encouraged to do it.
Since we left that church, I haven't really felt like I had the opportunity to kneel in prayer anywhere. Kneeling prayer is not the custom at First Congregational, and the way the church is designed, it obviously wasn't a thought when the place was built. There's nowhere to put a kneeling rail or prayer area at the front of the church even if they wanted one. The steps are in the middle, not at the side, and we need to use them as actual steps during the service. If you do go off to the sides you're hidden under the wall and you can't even see the cross. :( Pastor Becky kneels directly before the altar when she prays for us... but nobody else does. There really isn't a suitable physical location to do it. The church knows that, and they got a brand new kneeler at Christmas to try to provide the space, but it's kind of stuck off to the side (in the only space large enough to hold it) and I have yet to see a single person actually use it. It's probably only ever going to see use during wedding ceremonies, when they'll wheel it around and put it front-and-center for the bride and groom.
So why don't I pray? I'm embarassed about seeming over-fervant about it and doing something that other people aren't already doing. And I'm pretty thoroughly occupied with the music during the service. I'm sitting up in the choir stall with everyone else until they tell us to come out into the church for the sermon. That's a major improvement - we used to have to sit in the choir stalls for the whole 90 minutes, and it makes you feel like a goldfish in a bowl! You can't really take the time for personal reflection and involvement when you know that everybody else in the whole church can see you. I INSISTED on getting up and taking communion every Sunday, regardless of how many other choir members were following suit (weekly communion is a fairly recent introduction... and in the beginning, very few people were taking the opportunity to observe it. Only two or three choir members would get up and walk down to take communion with the rest of the church. Now we're already down with the church at that time, virtually EVERYONE does.)
But why don't I do it at home? Our cold hard tile floor isn't exactly knee-friendly, and I really didn't want to get down there if I could help it. Plus, I was embarassed to let John know that I wanted to do something so alien to both of us. Sure he knows I always knelt to pray in church... but that was there, not at home. Being self-conscious is a pretty pathetic excuse, and I know it.
I'm supposed to be listening to God and doing the things that He calls me to do. Not being too self-conscious and embarassed about what people might think of me. Even my husband. Not making excuses because they'll make me physically or emotionally uncomfortable for awhile. Not procrastinating my way out of following our Lord God. And not passively sitting there and letting somebody else do all the praying for me. God wants me to do it for myself!
So that's what I'm attempting to do. This Lenten season I am going to stop, kneel, and pray every day (and/or night.) For the leadership and future of our church, for God's guidance, and for anything or anyone else that God puts before me. And believe me, if you want a physical sacrifice, the act of kneeling on our cold hard tile floor counts bigtime! Last night I only made it five minutes, and I couldn't feel my feet when I got up. But I'm going to keep at it, and writing this here is my commitment to do so.