Our young children in the Prayer Room are learning about chocolate for the season of Lent using a curriculum called “No Chocolate Know Chocolate”. They are learning about how chocolate is made, beginning with cacao pods through the harvesting and production of chocolate, as a metaphor for how people grow in their faith as Christians.
For example, did you know that cacao trees require very special growing conditions? A cacao tree can only develop within twenty degrees of the equator in rainforests. It needs a place that is warm and moist, with a canopy of leaves to provide the tender plant some shade and protection.The cacao tree blossoms all year long, not just in certain seasons. And the blossoms can occur any place on the tree—usually the flowers are directly attached to the trunk - not the end of branches like other seeds. Flying all around the blooms are tiny midge flies that pollinate the blossoms so that they can grow into football-shaped pods the size of pineapples. Those pods are filled with seeds and they are what people harvest so that we can have chocolate!
Chocolate is nourishing the spiritual lives of our young kids and of course I have chocolate for us too. This week the chocolate is an Equal Exchange, organic chocolate from cacao pods that are grown, harvested, and produced in processes that enable the workers all along the way to earn a living wage.
But chocolate is just a metaphor for our spirituality, which is kind of perfect for the season of Lent when we are invited to look at how our faith shapes and informs our lives. The season of Lent invites us to consider questions like, “What am I doing to grow my relationship with God?” and, “What challenges am I facing that keep me from God?”
The psalm this morning considers similar questions
(and at 10am)
as well as connecting our readings to our liturgy, the words in the Psalm are the words in several of our Taize prayers.
(at 8am and 10am)
The person in the Psalm recognizes that the world is full of challenges and life is complicated. The Psalmist thinks, life can be really horrible, and one more day of this horribleness will be the end of me. Then, as often happens, life begins to turn around and get a little better and the Psalmist can see light at the end of the tunnel. There’s hope! But it’s the journey through that engages the Psalmist and is at the heart of the invitation to observe a holy Lent. It’s the journey through life’s difficulties that helps one grow in spiritual maturity, not the kind of challenges nor the outcome.
My youngest brother was born fifty years ago, yesterday. The day he was born I remember my dad calling home to tell us the baby was born, and it was a boy. I already had two younger brothers and I wanted a baby sister. Granted I was only nine years old, and so my first response to the news that I had another brother was to slip away into my room and hide my disappointment. Or course he’s proven to be a delightful brother, funny and smart, he cracks me up with his view on life. Given the difficulties of my family, my mother’s illnesses and my father’s alcoholism, being the only girl with three younger brothers definitely shaped me, not always for the better. For a long time I had no language or ritual or spiritual practice to help me make meaning out of my life experiences, my failed attempts at perfection and the regrettable effort at even trying to be perfect. I wonder if it might have helped if the church I attended as a child had observed Lent?
In that church Christmas and Easter were days not seasons, and Ash Wednesday and Lent did’t exist. I wonder though, if I had had an intentional season to consider the broken places in my life, if I would have examined the challenges of my childhood and their impact on me? I wonder if it would have helped me to learn how to confess my failures and know that God loved me anyway? It’s true I had an active prayer life with God, but with the challenges of my childhood and my prayers and conversations with God, my faith remained shallow, unexamined, lacking context to help develop it deeper.
In a sense I was starved for that kind of deep spiritual nourishment that fills one’s soul and sustains one with enough sustenance to survive when life is challenging. It’s only after I was an adult and an active member in the Episcopal Church that I began to really grow and develop an authentic solid sense of faith. Growing in faith through all the seasons, from Advent through Lent, Holy Week and Easter, and into ordinary time, is one of the spiritual opportunities that church has offered me. Being in community with other people of faith has encouraged me to look more deeply at my life. Through the church I have formed relationships that have supported me and given me the courage to examine the brokenness in my life, and friendships that have helped me grow in spiritual maturity.
Growing in spiritual maturity can be profound, even life changing. But, spiritual growth can also be subtle, just a simple choice one makes, like the difference between eating mass produced chocolate made by the slave labor of children versus eating fair trade chocolate where the producers, from farmers to manufacturers, all make a living wage under humane working conditions. Both are chocolate but when one eats one or the other one knows, at the core of one’s being, that the fair trade chocolate is the better spiritual, moral, and ethical choice.
I guess we might say that chocolate is more than just delicious, it might be nourishment for our souls, too.