During Lent, my church has stations of the Cross on Friday evenings at 17.30, so I hurry down after work to take my seat by the confessionals, between the station where Jesus is nailed to the cross and the one where He dies on the cross.
My experience of stations varies widely - some weeks I'm right there, others I struggle to stay focused, occasionally, I'm just stressy and angry. But no matter how I feel, I go.
Today, I felt grounded into it, enfolded in the entire experience. I particularly love the prayer:
O God, we love thee with our whole hearts and above all things, and are heartily sorry that we have offended thee. May we never offend thee any more. Oh, may we love thee without ceasing, and make it our delight to do in all things thy most holy will.
I love the emphasis on love, the prayer to 'love thee without ceasing' and to make God's will 'our delight'. Not a duty, not acquiescing to a demand, not out of obedience, but out of delight.
Yes, there will be sorrow, anger, ennui, grief, the darkest of places. But the foundation, the anchor, the source of our relationship with God is the love of our whole hearts and delight in His presence.
That whole-hearted love and delight in God, in our neighbour, in our daily life is our prayer. And as we know, the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him.
As I felt that love ache through the suffering of the stations as we moved towards the crucifixion and death, I looked up to see the darkening sky through the far windows and my heart sang. I finally understood why I loved the Lenten stations, why I kept coming, no matter whether I felt them or not.
I know the Christian sabbath is Sunday, but growing up a Muslim and teaching at a Jewish school - which brought me into deep resonance with and love for the Jewish faith, the root of all Abrahamic faiths - means that in the depths of my being, Shabbat begins Friday, though every day belongs to God.
For me, the Lenten stations are the doorway to Shabbat - time in simple, deep prayer to God. However I feel: deeply engaged, disconnected, teary, angry - during the stations, it is being brought to God in prayer during the stations. No matter how I feel, God is holding me then, and I feel our connection. Love and delight, even through the pain.
And I step through the doorway. Baruch Hashem.