Recently I have had a few experiences of worshiping in ‘the round’ with chairs in circle or oval round an altar. It completely changed my experience of the Eucharist. I could see more of what was going on at the altar. I could see faces of people and not the backs of heads. I could see musicians and not just hear them. It was a big change for me and I liked it.
This Lent I thought that I might do the same in my church. Each Sunday we have to set out the chairs in rows because during the week the building is used from morning to night by community groups. But the church is rectangular and there is plenty space to create a circle of chairs round an altar so that’s what I did. It wasn’t perfect the first week but I think we got it right last week. Two semi-circles of two rows of chairs facing inwards, with a small table to be our altar.
Oh how I wish I’d had a camera to capture the looks on faces as my little flock arrived. Mouths dropped. Frowns settled in. Eyes narrowed. Oh what is she doing now, I could see them think. Where’s MY chair, I could see them think. Enthusiastically I ushered them in. We’re just trying it for Lent, I exclaimed. Let’s try something new to give us a different perspective on things. Look, you can see the altar closely. Look, you can see one another’s faces not the back of their heads. Look, how different it can be. Look!
It’s just for Lent, they asked hopefully. How many more weeks?
Is change always good for us? Are you someone who likes new things, is excited by something different? Or do you like the same old same old? Do you prefer things to stay just the way they’ve aye been?
Sometimes Lent can be a good time to make changes. We are asked to give up things which take us away from God, to take on things which bring us closer to God. Lent is a time for new things, new ways of being, new ways of seeing, new ways of doing. Change can bring growth.
Many years ago I awoke and made ready for the day ahead. Spirits soared at the prospect of ascending the lofty ridge towering high above Glen Kingie. My heart leapt in anticipation of standing atop Sgurr Mor to survey the wild and piercingly beautiful handiwork that has emerged from the celestial crucible. A herd of deer leapt with me. Rugged mountains plunged breathlessly into the depths of shimmering sea lochs as the gulls swooped silently below my feet. From the sparkling, tumbling burn I could hear an orchestra of sound as sunlight shimmered and danced on its bustling surface to the ambrosial conductor’s quickening tempo. Isolation amidst raw beauty- wind; sun; rain; river; sea; mountain ridge; the silence of solitude. A time of rejuvenation; of communion with God; of self-discovery.
By the end of the week the silence felt louder than the shrieking winds that seemed to slice through rock itself. My senses were heightened- high mountain grasses thrust skywards like individual spears of rusty red and burnished gold; the cold and hunger made for unwelcome bedfellows; the imposing flanks of Sgurr Mor appeared as monstrous tidal waves looming through the gray and damp mists, threatening to engulf me as readily as the wild beauty was ready to consume me. I felt alive, joyful, and afraid in equal measure.
Following Ash Wednesday, we take those first tentative steps into the lenten journey. Each year as I look inwardly and outwardly, I am reminded again and again of that heady sensation of fear, of joy, and of life I experienced in the mountain wilderness. I bring on this path my successes and my failures, my joys and my sorrows. Every year that we gather we are each drawn, week by week, closer and closer, to our own high mountaintop and to the parapet of the Temple where we feel the tension as our own failings meet with the path Jesus has set out for us to follow. I am not yet ready to gaze upwards at that blood encrusted cross- but at this early stage of the journey I give thanks for the gift of life and the people in it with whom I share its glorious mysteries. And I thank God for the gift of the Church in holding love, grace and forgiveness as lanterns to guide us.
He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Luke 4:11 NIV)