"What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."  Little Gidding

This excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s, Four Quartets suggests the roundabout nature of life. Hopeful of ending some behavior we are not proud of, we strive to initiate some alternative way - in Lent, for example. The hard part is that so much of what we do stems from habits learned long ago. Intending something new, we stumble into our old habits and perpetuate things which we wish we would not do, as the Apostle Paul says. I well remember some of my father’s habits which I thought rather odd and quirky. Without intending so, I find myself doing exactly those same “quirky” things which, over time, have become my second nature. 

In Lent, many of us undertake in these 40 days something new - attempting to incorporate new prayer practices, for example, or disciplines that will change and transform us. As well-intentioned as these new practices might be, they are difficult to fulfill. Deep down inside of us lurks old ways and habits from long ago. Best intentions often fall by the wayside when bad habits overrun us.

I am reminded of the attempt to begin a new discipline in words of Scott Cairns, an Orthodox Christian: "I have recently turned fifty. (My progress)..has been very slow, negligible, and remarkably unsteady, with virtually every advance being followed, hard on its heels, by an eclipsing retreat....I have…hoped …to find my way to some measure of… equanimity, or peace, or ….something. …My life….reminds me of an often-repeated comment one monk made to a visitor to Mount Athos. I imagine it like this: The visitor asks what it is that the monks do there; and the monk, looking up from the black wool of the prayer rope he is tying, stares off into the distance for a moment, silent, as if wrestling the answer. Then he meets the other man’s eyes very deeply and says: We fall down, and we get up again."

Ash Wednesday invited us to embrace a similar challenge--living in a new way—acknowledging our sins and habits of the past, turning from the old to the new. We were invited to make a right beginning. Yet experience reminds us that this invitation will be met by mighty challenges. We must confront not only the unknown and that which is ahead of us, but especially our habits we drag with us.

If you are like me, you, too, will likely be discouraged when you fall short of your aspirations. Those “quirky” things we continue to carry, old habits will not easily fall by the wayside. Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice, said in her autobiography, My Beloved World, that the “measure of success is not how much you have closed the distance to some far off goal, but the quality of what you have done today.”

Forty days is a long time. Attempting Lent by ourselves, alone, suggests that we will likely fall short of our aspirations. Rather than attempt an individualized commitment to Lent, what if we of Christ Church were to make a new beginning by embracing a communal way of doing Lent? What would it be like if we experienced Lent as a community these 40 days? Rather than attempting Lent alone, flying solo, we could undertake this challenge together. This would mean more sharing, more learning together in prayer and Bible study, as well working with others in service to others, as well as communal acts of good will.

Rather than beginning and failing again and again; alone, let us embrace the many invitations at Christ Church to pray together, to break bread together, to read scripture together, to serve together that we make a new beginning; together. No need for fierce efforts; alone. Rather, as you pray with and for others, and as they pray with and for you, together, we will awaken new insights and understandings of this holy time of Lent.