a journey through lent
From the time we were children, our first question for Lent was often, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Giving something up for these 40 days is a custom that, when we were younger, helped us enter into the season with a sense of purpose and a greater awareness.
As adults, we might want to consider looking at Lent in a deeper way. We are probably much more settled into our behaviours and patterns of life and sometimes giving up something is where we begin – and end – our reflections on Lent. It can be tempting to say “I am giving up chocolate” or beer or even all sweets and all alcohol. But without more reflection, it can become simply a way I show God how strong I am. It is more about me than any conversation with God.
Lent isn’t simply about us “giving up” something. The real grace is when we recognize that Lent is a season in which God wants to give us something. God wants to help us transform our lives and make us more free as people – not just freer with God, but in the way we live our lives and love our families.
But this year we might reflect and ask the deeper question: What is God inviting me to change this Lent? How do I know what God might be stirring in me? I begin by listening to the movements in my heart. Where am I feeling uncomfortable with the choices I am making? With the things I have done? With the habitual ways I respond? The Lord will be speaking to me in those small nagging moments of discomfort in my heart.
Where do we need a breakthrough? What is the barrier that keeps us from asking for healing? In our own lives, we need to break through our denials, defensiveness and our unwillingness to look at ourselves. Discovering what the barrier is in my life is critical. If we don’t know what the barrier is, these weeks of Lent are a great time to reflect upon it. When we identify the barrier, we have made the breakthrough. That's when Jesus can heal us of it.
Why is this a good Lenten practice? Because it gets my attention where I live every day. It allows God’s grace into my soul and into the place where my real life exists. That's where Jesus stands with me every day, waiting for me to be lowered from the roof so he can touch me and heal me.
day 1 – Ash Wednesday
There is confidence everywhere in Ash Wednesday, yet that does not mean unmixed and untroubled security.
The confidence of the Christian is always a confidence in spite of darkness and risk, in the presence of peril, with every evidence of possible disaster…
Once again, Lent is not just a time for squaring conscious accounts: but for realizing what we had perhaps not seen before.
The light of Lent is given us to help us with this realization.
Nevertheless, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday is not focussed on the sinfulness of the penitent but on the mercy of God.
The question of sinfulness is raised precisely because this is a day of mercy, and the just do not need a saviour.
Fasting is giving up something to open up a space in the hope that the space will be filled by God.
Consider setting aside time each day where you are free from the messages of the world.
Ask God to speak to you; read the daily readings; take the bit that has most jumped out at you (whether you liked it or it irritated you) and sit with it awhile.
Then pray to God about it.
Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert
Always, wherever, whatever, however
When I am able to resist
For once the constant pressure of failure to exist,
Let me remember
That truly to be man is to be man aware of Thee
And unafraid to be. So help me God.
I can stick artificial flowers on this tree that will not flower, or I can create the conditions in which the tree is likely to flower naturally. I may have to wait longer for my real flowers but they are the only true ones.
John Fowles, The Aristos
It is time to take seriously what Christianity has always proclaimed: that this Mysterious Presence we call "God" is everywhere and is beyond all our human concepts.
It is time to make a significant shift in our understanding of "God."
It is time to shift from notions of a deity to an understanding and appreciation of the Divine Presence always here, always and everywhere active in an expanding universe and in the evolution of life on this planet.
Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence
No matter how much light I carry within me,
there will always be times of feeling lost,
being confused, seeking direction.
It is the way of the human heart.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you God
Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.
As we endeavour to end the wrongs, we musn't forget to do what's right.
To love is to be vulnerable.
Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless;
maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed
I tell you this to break your heart,
by which I mean only that it break open and
never close again to the rest of the world.
I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become.
Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God cannot retain it .
Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks—we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.
Parker J. Palmer
Dare to enter the darkness to bring another into the light.
I do not believe this darkness will endure.
Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say “Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.
Community is that place where the person you least want to live with always lives.
And when that person moves away, someone else arises to take his or her place.
Parker J. Palmer
During Lent try to pause more, listening deeper for and to God.
A verse to memorize this month is:
“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.”
Ephesians 3:17 (NLT) Pray that Christ will make his home in your heart.
Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth
plants something in his soul.
The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives—altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter.
Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure.
God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture.
Sometimes I think of life as a big wagon wheel with many spokes. In the middle is the hub.
Often in ministry, it looks like we are running around the rim trying to reach everybody.
But God says, “Start in the hub; live in the hub. Then you will be connected with all the spokes, and you won’t have to run so fast.”
Henri J. M. Nouwen
Lent need not be a somber season, a time of mourning for goods we have been obligated to relinquish. Rather I think it can be a joyful season, in the spirit in which St. Francis told Brother Leo: "Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt."
Lent is a time in which we regain a healthy relationship with tangible pleasures. By our willingness to give up the good things of the world, we reverse the bondage of avoidance, and become free to enjoy them as generous gifts of God.
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Matthew 6:16-18 NIV
Nothing, how little so ever it be, if it is suffered for God's sake,
can pass without merit in the sight of God.
Thomas a Kempis
Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self,
take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps.
Everything in life has its own time. There is time to celebrate and there is time to mourn. This is the time for reflection and transformation. Let us look within and change into what we ought to be.
Lent is like a long 'retreat' during which we can turn back into ourselves and listen to the voice of God....
Pope Benedict XVI
“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.
The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
God loved us before he made us; and his love has never diminished and never shall.
Julian of Norwich
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.
Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
What each must seek in his life never was on land or sea.
It is something out of his own unique potentiality for experience,
something that never has been
and never could have been experienced by anyone else.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe,
to match your nature with Nature.
Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life
and in this way to know the fundamental truth:
who we are, where we come from, where we must go,
what path we must take in life...
We do not think ourselves into a new way of living
as much as we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.
“Yet even now, says the Lord,
repent and return to me with all your heart”
In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life
and for 'finding himself.' If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else,
he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last,
and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all.
Thomas Merton from The Seven Storey Mountain
As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus' thirst...'Repent and believe' Jesus tells us. What are we to repent? Our indifference, our hardness of heart. What are we to believe? Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor—He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.
Teresa of Calcutta
Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God's ... Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn't point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one."
Some people think that having ash on your forehead is ridiculous. But I am neither ashamed nor afraid because the ashes remind me that I have to someday pass away and reunite with my creator.
For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.
Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me.
The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?”
And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.
Henri J. M. Nouwen
A growing season
Lent is not an event.
It is not something that happens to us.
It is at most a microcosm of what turns out to be a lifelong journey to the center of the self.
The purpose of Lent is to confront us with ourselves in a way that’s conscious and purposeful, that enables us to deal with the rest of life well. It is not a “penitential season.”
It is a growing season.
It requires us to determine what is worth dying for in our own lives
and what it may be necessary for us to become if we really want to live.
Six months ago I lived the simple life of a pilgrim, walking 450 miles on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. During those seven weeks all I did each day was walk toward St. James Cathedral in Santiago. I didn’t have to hurry madly to get there, pit myself against the walking pace of other pilgrims, or worry if my clothes were fashionable. I had just one main thing to do: walk.
It took 10 days before my distracted self finally “just walked.” From then on, little else occupied my mind and heart. It was the most focused and free I have ever been.
Since returning home, I see how easy it is to succumb to the subtle cravings of my superficially-oriented culture. It seduces me to clutter up my life, dress in a certain way, be knowledgeable on every subject, scurry around as busily as everyone else, and work in a frenetic fashion. When I give in to these things I am thrown off balance. I lose my peace and sense of inner direction. I lack clarity in my spiritual goals, forget the truths preached by Jesus, and experience frustrating days of self-orientation.
Lent is a time to clear away the cultural debris that disorients me on the Christian path. The Lenten acts of deprivation I choose are of little value unless they help my mind and heart to be more attentive and focused on one thing only: to walk the gospel message—to love as Jesus loved. All else is secondary.
Spiritual reading is not only reading about spiritual people or spiritual things. It is also reading spiritually, that is, in a spiritual way! Reading in a spiritual way is reading with a desire to let God come closer to us. . . .
"The purpose of spiritual reading, however, is not to master knowledge or information, but to let God's Spirit master us. Strange as it may sound, spiritual reading means to let ourselves be read by God! "Spiritual reading is reading with an inner attentiveness to the movement of God's Spirit in our outer and inner lives. With that attentiveness, we will allow God to read us and to explain to us what we are truly about."
Henri J. M. Nouwen
Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else. Let's be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.
Bread for the Journey
We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have - for their usefulness.
Each of us has the capacity for great good and that is what makes God say it was well the risk to bring us into existence.
Extraordinarily, God the omnipotent One depends on us, puny, fragile, vulnerable as we may be, to accomplish God's purposes for good, for justice, for forgiveness and healing and wholeness.
God has no one but us. St. Augustine of Hippo has said, "God without us will not as we without God cannot."
A rustic Russian priest was accosted by a brash young physicist who rehearsed all the reasons for atheism and arrogantly went on, "Therefore I do not believe in God."
The little priest, not put off at all, replied quietly, "Oh, it doesn't matter. God believes in you."
God believes in us. God depends on us to help make this world all God wants it to be.
What should I do first, God?
Should I eat or exercise or read this morning's news?
Should I write the thing, or tidy the thing, or build the thing?
Should I apologize to someone or thank someone or tell someone I love them?
Should I organize or resist or weep?
Should I rake or shovel or plant?
Should I make love or make up or make do?
Should I drive or walk or ride?
Should I seek or find or hide?
Should I shop or pack or plan?
Should I lean in or dig out or lift up?
Or should I sit?
Should I look out the window
with no word, no action -
just my eyes and your world
just my breath and your Breath?
Jennifer Garrison Brownell
It is always an act of faith to trust silence, because it is the strangest combination of you and not-you of all. It is deep, quiet conviction, which you are not able to prove to anyone else—and you have no need to prove it, because the knowing is so simple and clear. Silence is both humble in itself and humbling to the recipient. Silence is often a momentary revelation of your deepest self, your true self, and yet a self that you do not yet know. Spiritual knowing is from a God beyond you and a God that you do not yet fully know.
The question is always the same: "How do you let them both operate as one—and trust them as yourself?" Such brazenness is precisely the meaning of faith, and why faith is still somewhat rare, compared to religion.
When I’m sailing on the Atlantic Ocean, I often use a GPS, a Global Positioning System.
It lets me know where I am and where to steer to reach my destination.
We all have a GPS inside us, a God Positioning System: the heart.
When the heart is attuned, it will allow us to perceive in a whole different way.
The egoic, binary operating system perceives by separating
and differentiating things from each other.
The heart’s perception is pattern oriented.
It perceives the whole and then discerns its own place within that whole.
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting—
it has been found difficult and left untried.”
G. K. Chesterton
There are two ways of spreading light:
to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
"Why do you pray?" he asked me, after a moment.
Why did I pray? A strange question. Why did I live? Why did I breathe?
"I don't know why," I said, even more disturbed and ill at ease. "I don't know why."
After that day I saw him often. He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer.
"Man raises himself toward God by the questions he asks Him," he was fond of repeating.
"That is the true dialogue. Man questions God and God answers. But we don't understand His answers. We can't understand them. Because they come from the depths of the soul, and they stay there until death. You will find the true answers, Eliezer, only within yourself!"
"And why do you pray, Moshe?" I asked him.
"I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions."
If we will be quiet and ready enough,
we shall find compensation in every disappointment.
Henry David Thoreau
Remember that sometimes not getting what you want
is a wonderful stroke of luck.
The word 'happy' would lose its meaning
if it were not balanced by sadness.
Prayer is not a narrowly private activity; it is about your belonging in the body of Christ, and in the family of humanity.
If you understand what is going on when you pray, then the world changes.
And if in prayer you are gradually becoming attuned to the will and purpose of God, then the divine power that comes into you is bound to find its outlet in this healing of relations.
That is not to say that you pray in order to be a nicer person, or so that justice and reconciliation will happen.
You pray because Christ is in you. And if that is really happening, then the sort of things you can expect to see developing around you are justice and reconciliation.
There are two ways of meeting difficulties.
You alter the difficulties or you alter yourself to meet them.
This is a good sign, having a broken heart.
It means we have tried for something.
Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God's will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff's office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar.
This is a story that can happen anywhere at anytime, and we are as likely to be the perpetrators as the victims. I doubt that many of us will end up playing Annas, Caiaphas or Pilate, however. They may have been the ones who gave Jesus the death sentence, but a large part of him had already died before they ever got to him—the part Judas killed off, then Peter, then all those who fled. Those are the roles with our names on them—not the enemies but the friends....
No one knows what Judas said. In John's Gospel he does not say a word, but where he stands says it all. After he has led some 200 Roman soldiers and the temple police to the secret garden where Jesus is praying, Judas stands with the militia. Even when Jesus comes forward to identify himself, Judas does not budge. He is on the side with the weapons and the handcuffs, and he intends to stay there.
Or maybe it was not his own safety that motivated him. Maybe he just fell out of love with Jesus. That happens sometimes. One day you think someone is wonderful and the next day he says or does something that makes you think twice. He reminds you of the difference between the two of you and you start hating him for that—for the difference—enough to begin thinking of some way to hurt him back.—Barbara Brown Taylor
"The Only Spirit upsets us because it moves us, it makes us walk, it pushes the Church forward. We want to calm down the Holy Spirit. We want to tame it and this is wrong." said Pope Francis.
At the same time, I know that I am so often just like everyone else in my resistance to the Spirit, in my fear of being pushed forward.
That's because the Spirit is about change, movement, wind. The Spirit creates change and makes change the only constant. And that is, at times, scary.
Throughout my life, as I looked forward into the darkness of the future, I have never known where I was going or where I was being led.
Often I have been nervous and insecure about the next step in my life. It has always felt like stepping into the void. But in retrospect, my life seems like a straight line leading from moment to moment...
After all these years of praying and meditating, asking for the guidance of the Spirit, trusting the Spirit is the only way forward. I must let the Spirit change me.
Sister Simone Campbell