A problem well stated is a problem half solved.
– Charles Kettering

As we turn another month, I’m serving a week-long rotation as volunteer chaplain at the Virginia Regional Medical Center. As a chaplain, I get to fill a unique role at the hospital. There’s listening, of course, which is the big thing we keep chaplains around for, but I’ve also found that I get to be one of the only people at the hospital who has the time to move slowly. I remind myself frequently to slow down in the midst of the hospital’s rush, simply to provide someone else the chance to slow down with me.

Hospitals are such hurried places for a good reason, of course. Medical situations can develop very quickly and require immediate intervention. The structure of the work requires that the staff care for a large number of patients, each with different needs. And the patients themselves rightly dislike having to wait for someone to help them with a task they would rather have done for themselves in the first place. At the same time, it can be a blessing to have someone stop by without a strict agenda. There are some needs – emotional and spiritual processes especially – that simply can’t be hurried.

Our church tradition offers us the gift of slowness at various seasons of the year. This month, we begin the season of Lent, a traditional time to step into a slower rhythm and take a closer look at life. Disciplines such as prayer and fasting seek to restore us to a deeper trust in God’s provision. Our worship tries to support us in challenging self-examination. This is a time to sit with the hard questions that find their most profound answer in the good news of Easter morning.

We all know it would be more convenient and more comfortable simply to have the answers right off the bat. It would be more pleasant to skip right to Easter and skim over the darkness that precedes the sunrise. It’s just that the sunrise wouldn’t make much sense without the night, and the answers wouldn’t do us much good if we didn’t really understand the questions. We learn about ourselves, about the world around us, and about the life of God, when we stay inside the questions. That’s an uncomfortable place to be for many of us, but it’s often a fruitful place. When we examine the questions, without racing through to an easy conclusion, we’re able to see what question we’re really asking, what’s really at stake, and where grace might unexpectedly appear.

In a world where precision, certainty, and efficiency are prized, I’m thankful for the gift of a contrary rhythm that calls us to slow down, wonder, and allow ourselves to be surprised. I’m thankful for a congregation that opens itself to the questions and understands that no one of us has all the “correct” answers. I’m thankful for the divine Mystery that continues to unfold before us, within us, and between us. May there be blessings in our Lenten journey.

In Christ’s peace,

Nathan

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