Liminal Lent

Lent is an interesting season in a believer’s life. Nothing really separates these forty days from any other old forty days, save the church calendar and some reliance on moon cycles that Protestants don’t like to talk about. Lent can be any forty days or it can be no forty days, but it is these forty days, and so we set them aside and go, “Now what?”

Traditions vary on what should be done during Lent. The consensus seems to be “withhold”. Some of us withhold certain foods or habits as a way to symbolise that we are also “withholding” from seeing our lives as ordinary. We fast from the blind incomprehension of being people who don’t realise how grace-drenched their lives are. Physical hunger becomes an echo of spiritual hunger. Physical, mental or emotional discomfort becomes discomfort at the status quo nature of sin and injustice and darkness.

You can heap symbolism upon symbolism. Lent’s forty days is the long walk between palace and hill of skulls; it’s a long, weary sabbath when the night feels particularly dark; it’s the breath gasped at an empty tomb; it’s the breathless, “He is risen.” Lent is the time, however short or long, between realising we need the Lord and realising we’ve already had the Lord all this time. It’s a liminal time: liminal because we need a threshold to realise there is no threshold. In the Spirit we are immersed in God – and he in us.

Lent is a holy reminder, a dream suddenly remembered, seeing a beloved friend after a long separation. It’s both the pure joy of laughter and the most wrenching, aching sorrow, and it’s both at once, much in the same way that the Son of Man can be both human and divine; a burden and a joy we come to share as we remember our indwelling.

Lent is memory: remembering our salvation, which is itself a memory of whose we have always been.

For me, this Lenten season is about trying to remember why I like God. Not love, not obey, not honour, but like. What was it all those years ago that whispered to my soul and set it on fire? Can I find that voice again? Can I hear it over the racket of institutional religion’s voice? Or the dozens of other voices – pain, anger, fear, loss, grief, doubt – that clamour for my attention?

Whether it’s this Lent or the next or the one after that – how ever many Lenten seasons I am privileged and trammeled to witness – I’m sure I’ll find what I’m looking for. I’m sure because I’ve found it before. I’m sure because I haven’t actually lost it.

This is the agony and blessing of Lent: it’s a circuitous route to the place where we started from.


Contemplative prayer for delinquent believers

Contemplative prayer has been a miracle for me during a difficult season. It does not ask anything of me. It doesn’t ask that I believe when I can’t or don’t want to. It doesn’t demand faith or works or even prayer. It doesn’t require x amount of Bible study, x amount of volunteering, x amount of ministry. It doesn’t ask for forgiveness or sacrifice. It offers no advice. It doesn’t ask questions of me. It doesn’t demand answers or supplication. It enforces no doctrine and pursues no agenda. It doesn’t need me to be anyone else than who I am.

Instead, contemplative prayer gives. It gives me silence when I need silence, and comfort when I need comfort. It gives me grace, mercy, and compassion. It gives me presence. Rather than demand, it offers. Rather than scold, it encourages. It is kind. I sit down to it or turn my face to it, me,  the chiefest of sinners, and I am rewarded with the face of God, the smile of God, the heart of God.

I cannot lay claim to contemplative prayer. It isn’t a skill or a talent. It isn’t works. I can’t do anything to encourage it other than receiving it; I can’t do anything to discourage it, other than rejecting it. I can never deserve it, and I can never lose my right or my claim to it. It is the very essence of a gift, the very essence of a God who cannot but Be.

And, in fits and starts, imperfectly, I’m learning to Be with God. No pretense. No holy rolling. No flowery language. No blaming…or lots of blaming. No anger, or only anger. Love, or no love. Faith, or uncertainty, or skepticism. Hope, despair. Anguish, joy. Depression, contentment. At war, or at peace; at rest, or in revolt. Half-asleep, or fully awake. It doesn’t seem to matter to God.

I beat my breast…and God beats His. I offer confident proclamations, but God merely sings me a song. I offer dire advice, and He runs circles around me and my human ways. I expect deserts, and yet She flows like living water.

I’m always expecting to reach the bottom of the gift basket, but there just isn’t any end to God. There is no scarcity of God, despite the best attempts of religion (mine and other people’s) to make it seem so.

I’m happy to be proven wrong…but I’m also sad that for the longest time, I believed such outrageous lies about God. I’m sad that I thought I had to. I’m sad that a part of me – the most human, most frightened part of me – believed that there was anything other to God than More Than Enough.

Contemplative prayer is a reminder. It reminds me that I am in an eternal moment with God. This moment doesn’t run out, or go away, or expire. It isn’t defeated or lost. I am in God’s very heart, and in Her very breath. Whatever else happens, I know that this is true. It’s here that I find my peace, and I think it’s here that God finds His, as well.

Being fat is not a sin


This morning I ran across this article on Instagram: Everything you know about obesity is wrong, by Michael Hobbes and his team. Hobbes makes a startling point: that the blame for fatness – and it is very much blame – is still laid at the feet of the wrong things, like willpower and self-control, rather than increasingly unhealthy food systems and proven research that for most people, weight loss diets just don’t work.

It’s a fascinating article, and I encourage you to read it in full. Hobbes writes about the  culture of fat shaming in our society and touches on how many larger people have internalised this fat shaming, leaving most of us feeling lonely and dejected.

I want to add something to this discussion from a religious – specifically a Christian – standpoint. It’s pretty much encapsulated in the title of this post: being fat is not a sin.

Now, I’m sure if you asked most people, they’d say that no, they don’t think being fat is a sin. But is that how they act? From my own experiences in and around churches and Christians, the answer to that is “no”. A resounding no, even. At best, being fat is disapproved of – quietly and behind your back (although never so much behind your back that you could remain blissfully unaware of it). At worst, it’s seen as a slippery slope, because if you can’t muster self-control over your eating habits, it must follow that for you, it’s open season on other sins.

This attitude was brought painfully home in a book my Bible Study group started a few weeks ago (we stopped when I told them the book made me uncomfortable). In Priscilla Shirer’s A Jewel in His Crown (Moody Publishing), she writes the following:

Weight is a big problem, and many women are plagued by it. However, the Lord is showing me, slowly but surely, that my weight worries are really not only a physical problem. At least part of the problem is spiritual. My struggle with weight has taught me two very important things about my relationship with the Lord.

First, a continued struggle with weight, if it is not the result of some medical condition, is a direct sign that we have not submitted ourselves completely to the Lord. A woman who struggles continually with weight due to lack of self-control eating will also struggle with other self-control issues, such as immorality and anger. It’s not about our weight. It is about not allowing the Lord to be the Lord of our body.

For this reason, our bodies can become a very negative reflection of the power of God to do magnificent things in the lives of His daughters. How can we minister to drug addicts and tell them to be rid of the disease of drugs when we cannot rid ourselves of our addiction to food? It is so important for us to allow God to gain control of us in this area, and we can only begin this process by praying. We must ask God to forgive us our arrogance in assuming that he can’t handle our weight.

In her next point, she talks about how weight is tied to low self-esteem, and how we can’t have faithful sisters believing the lie of low self-esteem. But again, the blame – and it’s very much blame, with an added dose of self-righteousness – is laid at the feet of these fat women, and not the culture body shaming them into low self-esteem in the first place!

In essence, Shirer’s brand of Christianity (and she’s far from alone; see, for example, how popular Saddleback Church’s “Daniel diet” is) has adopted the body shaming culture around it – a culture steeped in capitalism, exploitation, superficiality, fads and discrimination – and justifies it by falling back on an attitude of quasi-asceticism that applies only to body weight and not, for instance, fair and just use of money, to name the most obvious shortcoming of this particular hive-mind. To Shirer and her ilk, fatness is a symptom of a deeper malaise of sinfulness. What she doesn’t say, but which is nevertheless heavily implied, is that it’s because it’s such a visible sin that it’s a problem.

I fear, at the heart of her writing is the very simple belief that fat equals ugly, and that ugly is bad for the church’s image.

I have a bit of a history with the concept of “visible sin”.

A church I attended, notable for its yearly Daniel fast, had an obsession with what I term “visible sin”.

To this church’s way of thinking, visible sins were things like drinking, smoking, foul language and living together before marriage. The church policed people’s Facebook accounts and shamed them from the pulpit for their “visible sins”. But by all accounts, invisible sins – asking for disproportionate amounts of money for ego projects, for instance, or being deeply controlling, judgmental, and narcissistic, or even adultery, domestic violence, pedophilia and misogyny, were smoothed over. The facade was what mattered.

If you’re someone who equates fatness with sinfulness, then yes, fat people must make you uncomfortable. Fat people and other visible “flaws” (flaws in this way of thinking) inevitably end up taking the congregational or societal flack so that people don’t have to confront the darker, deeper, invisible sins people can’t see (read: judge) in passing. The truly troubling spheres of behaviour.

I think, in their heart of hearts, the people who think fatness = sinfulness and belabor the idea that what matters in weight loss is strength of will (and therefore, strength of character), do so because it makes them feel better about their own perceived strength of will. At the end of the day, no matter what else is going on in their lives, no matter how deeply they sin, at least they’re not fat, right?

“It feels like the worst kind of weakness,” says one of Hobbes’ interviewees. In Christian culture, that weakness – the idea that you’re just not trying hard enough, that you’re being greedy or selfish or entitled or lazy – is made out to be a moral failing.

Although fat shaming has been a constant throughout my time in church, before this article, I’d never thought to connect it to my present alienation from institutional religion.

Has my fatness become the metaphor for all the things “wrong” with me, in a Christian sense? Has my fatness been connected to my character, to my character’s disparagement?

Have I been found fat, and wanting?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that if being fat is a sin, then being fat and female is even more so.

Fat shaming has a uniquely misogynistic element to it that goes all the way to its roots.

Culturally, fat shaming is shaming someone for the “crime” of being fat. All things being equal, fatness is only a crime because our current society equates fatness with unattractiveness, and what’s attractive or not is primarily defined and determined by men. One could therefore argue that fat shaming is shaming someone for being visible in an unapproved-of-by-men way.

Now, add to this already ugly cocktail the institutionalised misogyny of your average church.

In terms of Christian culture, if fatness equals sin, then fat shaming is merely sin correction; and if the offending fatty is female, then fat shaming her attains a gendered prerogative to also subdue her. Being fat, female and Christian in a mainstream, conservative church must therefore equal being in rebellion.

It’s hard for me not to wonder how many people have seen me as being “rebellious” simply because I was there, and I was female, and I was fat, and I was not sorry enough by their standards for any of it.

“[T]here is no magical cure. There is no time machine. There is only the revolutionary act of being fat and happy in a world that tells you that’s impossible. We all have to do our best with the body that we have,” dietician Ginette Lenham told Hobbes. “And leave everyone else’s alone.”

If we want to go around calling ourselves Christian, then Lenham’s advice must strike a deeper chord with us. The church has fallen into the trap of buying into the pervasive “beauty culture” of which fat shaming – a layered shaming in the church, as we’ve seen – is an integral part. It’s endlessly ironic to me that the same churches who would warn their congregations against the dangers of worldliness probably don’t realise that their conscious and unconscious prejudice against “visible sinners”, like fat people, are rooted in the very worldliness they preach against.

Because let me tell you, it isn’t rooted in God.

“God is a woman and she is growing older”


I know, it’s been ages and ages since I’ve posted here. Someday I’ll get into why, but for tonight, I just wanted to share this piece I found via Twitter. It’s called “God is a woman and she is growing older”, by Rabbi Maggie Wenig. Read it in its entirety here.

God is home, turning the pages of her book. “Come home,” she wants to say to us, “Come home.” But she won’t call. For she is afraid that we will say, “No.” She can anticipate the conversation: “We are so busy. We’d love to see you but we just can’t come. Too much to do.”

Even if we don’t realize it, God knows that our business is just an excuse. She knows that we avoid returning to her because we don’t want to look into her age-worn face. It is hard for us to face a god who disappointed our childhood expectations: She did not give us everything we wanted. She did not make us triumphant in battle, successful in business and invincible to pain. We avoid going home to protect ourselves from our disappointment and to protect her. We don’t want her to see the disappointment in our eyes. Yet, God knows that it is there and she would have us come home anyway.

Psalm 42b



My women’s Bible Study group started Renovare’s Prayer & Worship: A spiritual formation guide last week. One of the things you’re asked to do at the end of the first chapter (on worship), is to pen your own psalm. Using Psalm 42 as an example, the book examined worship as a thirst for God. It’s this theme that inspired my own “psalm”.

Psalm 42b

A psalm by Lee

I do not thirst for You as a deer thirsts for water, Lord; that would be too easy.

I am not always sure that I thirst for You at all.

And yet… And yet there’s something, Lord.

I look for it on the Internet and in books, on blogs and at the bottoms of cookie jars, in saying the rights things and trying to act in the right ways, in having a clever answer and a chip on the shoulder, at the tops of fluffy white clouds and at the bottom of the soles of my feet squishing into soft grass, in good humour and PMS and quiet moments and deep, long sighs.

I perpetually pat my spiritual back pockets, checking to see if that something is still there, but I do not know what it is.

I therefore must conclude that it’s You, Lord. Can it really be that easy?

I’d rather it be harder, I think; that way I can get more credit for trying, and thus, more leeway for my standard ill-appreciation of Your grace.

What, after all, does the deer do, other than thirsting, for You to answer it?

What a scandalous notion, that my thirst is answered on no account of my own!

And yet… And yet it makes sense that You. omniscient, loving, kind, patient, forgiving and forbearing, make no sense at all.

You are not human logic but Logos. “Love” is the Word.

In the meantime, I will check mashed potatoes for that something, and being irrationally irritated by minor inconveniences. and judging people by their velocity in supermarket aisles.

Just in case, You understand.

Man! It looks like I’m a deer thirsty for water after all!