Lent and Spir. Disc.–Day 18

(Day 18-minus Sundays)

One of the spiritual practices in Lent is almsgiving–which I translate sometimes to works of mercy. There are three levels of giving in the scriptures: tithing, which is a 10th of what you own and the spiritual norm; almsgiving, which is giving beyond the tithe; and gleanings, which are what’s left over that you don’t need or want, and you leave for others to glean–see Ruth and Naomi in Boaz’s fields.

So, if one is tithing one’s time–one gives 10% of one’s time. If one is almsgiving one’s time, it would be something given after the tithe is already given. Tonight, I spent some time in a wonderful little place in Gloucester called The Chill Zone. I’ve wanted to volunteer there since the Chill Zone began in late 2008. Finally, it seems, this season, I can set the time aside to do that, and not feel that I’m taking time away from work. Lent gave me the extra push to get myself there.

The Chill Zone is a teen drop-in center held two nights a week, funded by grants and gifts. On any night when the Chill Zone is in session, you can find a group of lively young people, doing homework, playing games, chatting, listening to music, or just hanging out. The staff also serve a warm meal. Tonight was mac and cheese with some hamburger. It was delicious.

One of the things the kids do there is homework. I sat in on a homework session with six teens who were wrestling with algebra, English essays, a science research paper, all interspersed with high spirits, conversations about everything under the sun, and lots of laughter. You could feel the energy flying around the room.

They didn’t quite know what to make of me, because I was still wearing my clerical collar when I got there. Was I a nun? Was I married? Did I have kids? How old was I? Could I do math? What are Lutherans? Did I believe in ghosts? Nothing was sacred, and they were curious. I had trouble with the ghost question.

They have so much energy. By 8:00 p.m. I had run out of steam. And excused myself. Would I come back again? Yes, I said. It was a great evening. I enoyed their humor, their banter, their irreverent reverence, their acceptance, and their friendliness to each other, and to me.

This week we’ll read about God’s wide-open arms of welcome in the story of the Prodigal Son. The gift of hospitality is lovely holy thing. Tonight, though a stranger, I received an open-hearted welcome at the Chill Zone, which, it turns out, belies its name. This is one warm and loving place.

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