Resources for Lent :: Sarah Bessey

I found myself wandering into the Anglican Church many years ago. I still have no idea why I did this. I was craving an encounter with the Spirit, but my grief had erected too great a wall between me and my tradition. I couldn’t seem to bring myself to go to the stadium-style church with light shows and happy-clappy choruses. I found myself craving a God who would meet me in lament and silence and darkness. When I spotted a tiny stone church downtown near my work shadowed with live oak tress, I felt drawn to it.

I randomly pulled in, and it happened to be an Ash Wednesday service. I sat in the back row to listen and I thought, I have no idea what is happening right now. It was confusing and weird to me but there in the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, as we prayed and read and worshipped through the admission of our sin, I released a breath I didn’t know I had been holding.

Finally. Finally someone was acknowledging the shadows, the grief, the repentance, the sometimes inescapable sorrow of our existence.

I found myself heading up the aisle with the congregation to have some guy in a robe draw a cross on my forehead out of ashes. Now I would say that I was compelled by the Spirit to receive the imposition of the ashes because when the priest touched my forehead and said the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” it seemed as if the disconnected joint in my spirit between the solar and the lunar were popped back into its right place. We prayed through the Psalms, we listened to the challenges of the prophet Isaiah, we read the Gospels, we prayed and confessed our way corporately through a litany of repentance:

“Most holy and merciful Father: we confess to you and to one another and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”

***

But make no mistake: I wasn’t longing for “more candles” or a cool new experience to chase.

I was craving Jesus. Desperately.

Not seven steps to a better life, not practical how-to stuff for the week ahead, not more sermons about “what women really want.” I certainly wasn’t longing for vestments and hierarchy, smells or bells: i was longing for Jesus. I wanted to be with people who loved him, too. I longed to remember him, to commune with him, to sit in his dust in the dark and in the light, and to learn, as Jesus offered in Matthew 11:28-30, how to live freely and lightly in the unforced rhythm of grace.

Jesus.

I simply wanted Jesus, and since I couldn’t seem to part the weeds of my own tradition to find his face (that, most assuredly, was because of my own baggage), I began to walk in the well-worn paths that the pilgrims before me had craved out. The Holy Spirit met me there, in a blend between my own past and the ancient heritage of my faith, helping me to find a way to the future, to my born-again-all-0ver-again self.

When I couldn’t find my way through the clutter of praise and worship, I found Jesus in the silence and in the liturgy. When I couldn’t go into a megachurch, I could sneak into a small chapel and light a candle. When I had no words to pray, the Book of Common Prayer gave me back the gift of prayer. When I couldn’t sing along with certainty, I could hold a hymn book and simply listen, let the voices of others carry me. When I was consumed with my own life, blinders on, the liturgy reoriented me to the real story – to redemption, justice, and confession and to worship and community. I learned to orient worship around Christ and the Spirit and the Father.

And just like the grief stained everything, the hope and the rebirth – my Jesus – brought that renewal and the new narrative of wholeness to my life.

(excerpted from my book “Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith” pages 141 – 143)


 

If you’d like to observe Lent this year, I’ll point you to a few resources that I have appreciated over the years:

  • I’ve gotten to know the folks at Trinity Grace Church in Chelsea thanks to our mutual involvement in a gathering called Praxis (it’s for us happy-clappy charismatics who are also liturgical). A.J. Sherrill and his team have created a lovely and accessible Lenten devotional – for free download – so check it out here. It’s a great resource for any beginners to the practice as it will explain what Lent is and how it works as well as walk you through what to do.
  • A New Liturgy has a beautiful and powerful audio walk-through of the Examen with a musical score.
  • Phyllis Tickle’s full Divine Hours series has been my companion for praying the offices and observing the Church calendar for many years now. I cannot say enough good about it! But the full trilogy (Springtime, Autumn & Wintertime, Summertime) can be a bit overwhelming for beginners, so there’s also this pocket edition of the full set. However for Lent, I’d recommend this one that excerpts the prayers for Eastertide: Prayers for Lent through Easter from The Divine Hours. If you want a physical book in your hands, this is a great start.
  • This Lent, I’m planning on using the Anglican Prayer Beads that I bought at Westminster Abbey in London this past October. I’ve never practiced this discipline so this will be new to me and I’m using this resource.
  • And of course don’t feel that Lent is a solitary exercise. However you worship, I hope you can find a way to connect with the larger community of believers in some way during this season, too. Perhaps you could participate in any one of these practices as a small group of friends or as a faith community, too.

 

 

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  • Denise

    Thank you, Sarah. I’m new to the Anglican tradition myself, and am finding peace within it that I never thought I’d find. And thank you for the resource list. Phyllis Tickle has been my introduction to the BCP, and I’m looking forward to trying the prayer beads.

  • Thank you for this piece. This is my first Lent as an official Anglican, and when I read this portion of “Out of Sorts” I admit I cried because of how. precisely. accurate. it was. Thank you.

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  • Thom Crowe

    Beautiful. I understand exactly what you mean. When I joined a liturgical community, I was searching for a more genuine and more real encounter with Christ. Everything I thought I knew about the liturgical traditions of Christendom was challenged and I was freed. One suggestion I have for you that encapsulates so much is the Jesus Prayer, which is often called the Prayer of the Heart throughout the Christian East. It is so moving and meaningful. There’s a great book you can find that delves into the heart of it: http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Prayer-Ancient-Desert-Tunes/

  • i have similar roots to you and after a year and a half of searching have also found myself a little more permanently in a little messy anglican church and tonight my wife and i head to an Ash Wednesday meeting [my second time ever] and i can’t wait – am three quarters of the way through your book at the moment and have really enjoyed and resonated with a whole lot of it so thank you… am enjoying finding Jesus in the different spaces to the ones i am used to, the liturgy and the prayers and silences and moments of symbolism…

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  • You point out that whether liturgical, charismatic, or some other variety, what we’re looking for is Jesus. The long experience of the varied community of faith to which we belong as Christians is more important than our differences.
    My husband has been in the hospital for over a week, and the emotional toll has totally drained me. Driving home last night I heard on the radio choral renditions of some old Negro spirituals: “There is a balm in Gilead.” It ministered to my soul as nothing else I could have searched for at that moment.

    • Tanya

      Praying for you and your husband now.

  • Lovely. You’re some of the liveliest dust I know, Sarah.

  • Est

    Hi, I’m currently experiencing my first Anglican Lent, some strange twists and turns of life have led us to be worshipping at a small Anglican church, having been bought up in and immersed in a big blousy baptist church.While I haven’t really worked out what is going on all the time, I kind of like the rhythm of it, and Jesus is definitely at the centre.

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  • Question: Are the Lent readings included in the Springtime Phyllis Tickle or only separately?

  • Question: Are the Lent readings included in the Springtime Phyllis Tickle or only separately?

  • Sandy Jones Fox

    Another wonderful resources is Christine Sine at Mustard Seed Associates.
    Kimberlee Conway Ireton has a wonderful book called The Circle of Seasons that has lovely and very doable ideas for the different seasons in the church year. Sarah Arthur’s new book Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent,Holy Week and EasterTide is thought provoking and very well done.

  • Sandy Jones Fox

    Another wonderful resources is Christine Sine at Mustard Seed Associates.
    Kimberlee Conway Ireton has a wonderful book called The Circle of Seasons that has lovely and very doable ideas for the different seasons in the church year. Sarah Arthur’s new book Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent,Holy Week and EasterTide is thought provoking and very well done.

  • Helen

    Hi. LOvely post. I am very interested in the ANglican prayer beads- seems like a lovely idea. I’ve read a couple of websites describing them but I’m still unclear- do you repeat the same prayer for all the Weeks beads? So 7×4 times however many times you want to go round? PLus the other prayers? Is that right? I recognise that it doesn’t really matter, I could freeform it, but I would love to just have that clear in my head!! What’s your understanding? Thanks?

  • Helen

    Hi. LOvely post. I am very interested in the ANglican prayer beads- seems like a lovely idea. I’ve read a couple of websites describing them but I’m still unclear- do you repeat the same prayer for all the Weeks beads? So 7×4 times however many times you want to go round? PLus the other prayers? Is that right? I recognise that it doesn’t really matter, I could freeform it, but I would love to just have that clear in my head!! What’s your understanding? Thanks?

  • janetb1

    I just finished reading Out Of Sorts and tears streamed down from my face. It was that good. Sarah. Thank you for this beautiful book. My husband is now reading it.

    I stepped out of church almost 11 weeks ago. This is a journey I never saw myself on but here I am. I am praying it brings me closer to God and actually walking through Lent during this journey is beautiful.

    Thank you for these resources.

  • janetb1

    I just finished reading Out Of Sorts and tears streamed down from my face. It was that good. Sarah. Thank you for this beautiful book. My husband is now reading it.

    I stepped out of church almost 11 weeks ago. This is a journey I never saw myself on but here I am. I am praying it brings me closer to God and actually walking through Lent during this journey is beautiful.

    Thank you for these resources.

  • Susanne Barrett

    Yes, I felt the same way about the Anglican Church in general and the Book of Common Prayer in particular. When I became ill–in too much pain to be able to think clearly or to pray anything past “Help!” the BCP gave voice to my prayers. After my pain was controlled at last, I was privileged to work on a new BCP for the Reformed Episcopal Church that hearkens back to the theology of the original 1549 BCP but using modern language and the ESV Scriptures. So praying the BCP 2011 has been so freeing for me. And as a lifelong evangelical, I need the silence and the permission to ponder, my knees aching against the padded kneeling bench.

    I had wanted to see you at PLNU this week–I’m a graduate and former adjunct in Dean’s department (the literature branch)–but I couldn’t miss Friday’s Lenten Mass with my Anglican priest who had been away for six weeks. I was too hungry for the contemplative quiet and for the focus to be on the Eucharist rather than on the words of a mere man as he explains the Scriptures to us in our evangelical church services. There is a place for sermons, but I hungered for a slowing of time, the blessing of holy silence, the devotion of prayer, and feeding on the bread and the wine Friday morning instead of Chapel at PLNU. So I hope to see you if you make it out here to San Diego again. 🙂

    Warmly,
    Susanne 🙂

  • Susanne Barrett

    Yes, I felt the same way about the Anglican Church in general and the Book of Common Prayer in particular. When I became ill–in too much pain to be able to think clearly or to pray anything past “Help!” the BCP gave voice to my prayers. After my pain was controlled at last, I was privileged to work on a new BCP for the Reformed Episcopal Church that hearkens back to the theology of the original 1549 BCP but using modern language and the ESV Scriptures. So praying the BCP 2011 has been so freeing for me. And as a lifelong evangelical, I need the silence and the permission to ponder, my knees aching against the padded kneeling bench.

    I had wanted to see you at PLNU this week–I’m a graduate and former adjunct in Dean’s department (the literature branch)–but I couldn’t miss Friday’s Lenten Mass with my Anglican priest who had been away for six weeks. I was too hungry for the contemplative quiet and for the focus to be on the Eucharist rather than on the words of a mere man as he explains the Scriptures to us in our evangelical church services. There is a place for sermons, but I hungered for a slowing of time, the blessing of holy silence, the devotion of prayer, and feeding on the bread and the wine Friday morning instead of Chapel at PLNU. So I hope to see you if you make it out here to San Diego again. 🙂

    Warmly,
    Susanne 🙂

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