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By Rev. Jim Innes

For many years in my ministry, I had been challenged by the liturgical season of Lent. It took a long time to appreciate what it invokes.

Lent is a time (40 days) of self-reflection before Easter, often marked by some form of abstinence and an increased focus on reading the Bible and reaching out charitably. The liturgical rituals are penitential and, as I had experienced them, were shrouded by an unwelcoming haze. They dampened me with an uncomfortable shame.

When I spoke of this experience, folks would look at me questioningly. I could sense that my sensitivity was not a common one, nor, I presumed, a welcomed one. And that furthered my awkward tension.

Reflecting on this uncomfortable situation, I recall the struggles many of us had as we transitioned from the Book of Common Prayer into the regular use of the Book of Alternate services. These books were interchangeably used as our Sunday morning worship outline. And, as I remember, we were accused by some of the well-versed traditionalists of "pulling the rug out" from under Anglicanism by reconfiguring the tone of the worship experience.

The problem encountered was that the Book of Common Prayer (the older book) had a penitential tone that was missing in the newer worship book. In the old book, worship was a weightier, more atoning experience than the newer version. And those who loved the old book (and still love it) spoke of its beauty in both word and movement.

Those who like the newer book and applauded the move away from regular use of the older one spoke of the revisions as refreshing, an attempt to balance tradition with modernity. And though many of these supporters admitted its clumsiness, there was an appreciation for its increased emphasis on Grace.

The point of the article is this, be it Lenten practices, a theological emphasis, or a liturgical preference, our likings are molded by what we know and what we need--and don't need. And these needs, formed by our unique situations and resulting head space, change over time.

My initial distaste with Lent (and any heavily penitential theology) was triggered by my struggle with Shame. The result of a history readers here have heard me speak of before. Consequently, I was reactive to any hint of humiliation. I was heavily influenced by a need for a gracious God and an affirming theology.

As we mature (including letting go of old wounds and healing) and, hopefully, see more of the bigger picture with a clearer vision, our needs shift, our tolerance increases, and what we once criticized, we can often understand less defensively. Nowadays, I am far less triggered by Shame and have come to appreciate the healthy humility that Lent practices can provoke.

Distance, measured by time, is a powerful change agent. When this distance allows us to step back to refocus or reconsider our needs, we inevitably come into a more authentic frame of reference. This means, as I see it, that we will eventually, and sometimes despite ourselves, arrive at a place where self-protective criticism no longer rules our needs. A place where we look past what we can't understand or find difficult to accept and put more energy into assimilating the contradictions and differences surrounding us.

Rev. Jim Innes is the rector of St. John's, Grand Bend with St. Anne's, Port Franks.