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Once Advent comes and goes, Presbyterians can pause for Lent by spending time with the psalms


The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Caldwell is a recent guest on ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’

November 27, 2023

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Caldwell

Even as they look forward to Advent soon, Presbyterians will be peeking into Lent by mid-February. With her book “Pause: Spending Lent with the Psalms” scheduled for publication by Westminster John Knox Press on Jan. 2, 2024, the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Caldwell discussed the rhythms of the Lenten season recently with Simon Doong and the Rev. Lee Catoe, who host “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast.” Listen to their conversation here. Caldwell, whom many know as “Lib,” taught for more than three decades at McCormick Theological Seminary. She joins “A Matter of Faith” at the 28:48 mark.

Early on, Catoe asked her: Are there lessons or practices for Lenten-style pauses or reflections that we can use at other times of the year?

The Christian calendar, which includes Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, followed by Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday and, later, Holy Week and then months of Ordinary Time after Pentecost “offers a nice alternative to the cultural calendar,” Caldwell said. For many, Easter is the big day during the spring, but “it’s about a season. It’s about a practice,” she said. “For me, Lent is a way of engaging in a practice of some faithful reading, some pausing that prepares me to enter this season of Easter.”

“I like the rhythms of the church year,” Caldwell said, “because they offer me a way of connecting with other persons of faith” while also making “me attentive to my own life of faith and my own practices.”

According to Caldwell, spiritual formation has become increasingly important following the pandemic, “and we are not totally dependent on somebody feeding it to us one hour on a Sunday morning.”

For churches sending an e-blast late in the week to inform members and friends about worship and other upcoming activities, Caldwell recommends engaging them with a question or two about the texts being preached on.

“A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” with the Rev. Lee Catoe and Simon Doong drops each Thursday.

“I do a lot of encouraging” for parents to start faith formation practices with their children, “even if it’s only a blessing” at mealtime, because “if they grow up with nothing and they expect the church to be the only place where they get it, it’s not going to stay with you,” Caldwell told Doong and Catoe.

She recalled Ash Wednesdays while teaching in Chicago, receiving ashes on her forehead and then leaving them on all day. “I’d forget it, and then I’d get home at night to wash my face and there it would be,” she said. “And it became kind of this ritual of taking it off and reminding myself I am God’s beautiful child and I have some responsibility and commitment during this season to follow in the path that Jesus has set and walk that road.”

One year, Caldwell focused her daily Lenten readings on the psalms rather than all the lectionary passages, and that focus made all the difference. She likened it to taking a hike. Do we hike just to get our steps in to raise our heart rate? Do we hike “because that’s what your body needs, and your brain needs?” Or do we hike so that we “can pause and look at something beautiful in nature?” It’s like walking a labyrinth, “not with the intention of getting it done, but with the intention of being in touch with the rhythm of walking and where I am in nature and what’s going on,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said she wrote the book in part “because pausing is what I’ve come to value at this age in my life.” With more time on her hands than she had while teaching, “I can be really, really intentional about how I pause to reflect. … Each of us needs to find something personal. I think it’s different for every person, but it seems to me one of the things we could be doing is talking about … some varieties of practices and the ways that help us survive — not only survive, but maybe find ways to thrive in the deep needs of the world in which we’re embedded.”

Previous and upcoming editions of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast can be seen here.

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Caldwell, a guest on ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’

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Let us pray

Loving God, may we be and see others as bridges of hope and transformation. Amen.