Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

ash-wednesdayTonight our church entered Lent with two Ash Wednesday services. One of the themes was “keys” and how we can use those keys to unlock those places hidden away inside our hearts.

Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heartand 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. [Joel 2:12-13]

We mark the beginning of Lent with this day. It can become a mere ritual of ashes, bread, and wine, or it can be enriched with commitment and desire. Do I want more of God in my life? Do I want to surrender the secret places?

Lent is not just a time of “giving something up.” It’s a time of exchange. I will to exchange one time sucker, one habit, for something new, for devotion, for meditation, for prayer, for reading, for conversation with Spirit. I not taking away. I am adding. I am making a promise. That is the message of Ash Wednesday and Lent for me.

One of the stations we had was a cross where we could affix a simple post-it note with something (or someone) that is hindering our journey to the Cross. This roadblock we gave to Christ. As one of the organizers of the Ash Wednesday service, I feel compelled to treat these requests with respect. And so, as part of my devotion, I will be praying over and with these requests along with those who left them there. I will be their Aaron for these 40 days, as God reveals.


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holy objects TabernacleBack in the day, they had some seriously sacred and holy objects. Everything in the Tabernacle (tent of meeting) was holy and could only be handled, touched, or carried by certain people and in a certain way. Any deviation could mean death. Does anything in our contemporary world compare?

They [Kohathites clan] are the ones who shall deal with the most sacred objects associated with the congregation tent. . . . When Aaron and his sons are done covering all the holy objects and furnishings, then and only then (so that they don’t touch the sacred things and die), the Kohathites can approach. They are the ones who shall transport these items of the congregation tent. [Numbers 4:4, 15]

There are religions around the world that do have sacred objects and although none have the death penalty, they do carry severe holy eucharistpenalties. In Western culture, mostly it’s the high church denominations such as Catholicism and Orthodox who revere things, be it the Eucharist (sacramental bread), icons, relics, or specific objects that have been blessed or designated for holy use. In Muslim culture, it’s my understanding that the Quran (book itself) should never touch the floor or have anything laid on top of it and believers should not touch its pages without formal ablutions.

But the idea of holiness in our midst, whether in objects or places, has been lost, in large degree, by the vast numbers of believers who have embraced a friendlier God whose grace extends to jeans, casual environments, electronic texts, and handy communion elements. I am not condemning the practice per se; after all, I attend such a church myself. It’s modern and relevant and loud; it appeals to a broad range of people and is designed to be accessible to both believers and non-believers alike.

cross and rosaryIn Christianity, the cross, the instrument of torture used by the Romans to execute criminals has become so ubiquitous that both believers and non-believers can be seen wearing t-shirts, earrings, and tattoos with the cross prominently displayed. Go figure.

What is holy in my own life? I find myself hungering sometimes for the holy or sacred experience. In new cities, I love finding older church buildings and sitting in the quiet spaciousness of the place. I love to listen to sacred music alone or practice the praying of the hours. There is a respect for the time and the place that feels different, that engages me spiritually in a way that other things do not. Don’t get me wrong, I love contemporary worship with its upbeat sound, waving hands, and corporate experience. But it does not speak of holiness. It’s praise and adoration of a type, but I would never assign the word holiness to it.

There are times in nature when I have felt a holy presence, but it cannot be re-created at home. And I have had remarkable revelations while reading my Bible and yet, I know I treat the book itself somewhat cavalierly (besides, I must have about twenty different versions all over my house). If I can’t find one, there’s always a back up. It’s not holy or sacred in that other way at all.

Of course, one cbasilicaan ask if holiness or sacred objects are needful in today’s culture? Perhaps not. But I wonder, are we missing something?

My husband’s conversion story includes a moment when he heard the voice of God ask what he would do if Christ appeared to him in the flesh? And Mike’s internal response would be that he would bow down and worship him. For him, a holy moment, no doubt. But we have so few of those moments today. Bowing down as a symbolic gesture of surrender or subservience is foreign to most of us. In the face of foreign “royalty,” Americans tend to bristle a little at the idea of bowing to them. Even the idea of a “king of kings” is honestly unfamiliar. These are merely words, not actual feelings of reverence or awe.

As I think about Lent, I want to search out the holy in my heart as well as my environment. It will be the focal point, I think, to my 40 day journey.

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distanthomeI will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ [Luke 5:18-19]

Before the “prodigal” son could return home, he had to see himself and his situation. This is that epiphany moment when everything that has been fuzzy is clear, when the justifications no longer work, when the excuses are exposed as lame, when truth wins. And in that moment, there is a choice, to continue along the same path or turn around.

It’s hard to turn around because that journey may mean going over the same ground traveled once before: in essence, a review of those older choices. The road appears even longer on the way back. Did I really do that? Did I really say that? Did I really come this far?

And that is the question, isn’t it? Did I really?

It’s too easy to lose sight of what is happening on that “road to perdition.” What might have appalled the first time becomes common place. The shock wears off and soon, circumstances become the norm.

Like the story of the frog who drowns in the pot of water, slowly heating up.

Of course, not every return is from the pit of hell (although sometimes, it’s clearer, what needs to happen next). Some returns are closer at hand. Sometimes, it’s just a prayer life that has gotten bland and superficial, where more time is spent at a meal prayer than at the feet of Christ. Sometimes, it’s a type of laziness, a depression that is not clinical, but woos all the same: to lie there in the curve of the sheets or the indent of the couch, to cuddle into the hollow of the chair.

Home in Christ is not passive by nature. When it is, something is amiss. Why have I allowed it to become so wishy-washy? Why has my faith become so tame, so compliant? So lacking in joy and transformative power? It’s not bad or evil, my situation. I mean, I’m not wallowing in pig slime or sin. I’m boring today.

I’m a boring believer. Sluggish. It’s my own miniature of the “dark night of the soul.” I don’t believe God or the Presence is missing. Of course. It is I who have gone somewhat AWOL. Perhaps it was the busy few days, the travel, the change in schedule that has plunged me into this lassitude. Or, it’s the pesky virus that hangs on to my head and sinuses, who drives me to sleep. In any case, I feel prodigal and dissipated by it.

So, what to do?

Call it for what it is. That’s first. Then I can turn around. Maybe tomorrow.

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grieving angel“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8-9]

Here’s the difference. When you and I “think,” it’s just an opinion or point of view or perhaps a bit of problem solving. When God thinks, things come into being or mountains move. The answer to the question, “what is God thinking” is incomprehensible to humans. Maybe, “what are You making?” would be better. I get some solace from my faith in a blueprint. Some.

We’ve gotten too casual with God. Perhaps it’s part of the new informal culture where jeans are always acceptable and language has become various letters of the alphabet. YKWIM? We want the “thumbs up” Jesus. We don’t want to be afraid of God so we make God cozy and grandfatherly.

And although a relationship with God can be warm and intimate and full of mercy, there is a point when God basically says, “because I said so.” And this moment needs to be accepted with the same surrender as “cootchy, cootchy, coo.” A creator has the ability and the right to destroy or alter or remake the object. “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”[Romans 9:20]

Lately, some terribly difficult circumstances have dropped into the lives of my colleagues and friends: several people have been diagnosed with cancer or had serious surgeries, a couple of people have been on dialysis for over a year, and now a 3 1/2 year old child died just three days after being diagnosed with T-Cell leukemia.The child’s death has been the most difficult of all.

It’s hard to avoid the gripe, “what is God thinking?” Is there a satisfactory answer in my world? Not really.

I understand intellectually. Each journey is different. And although I have come to a peace about my friend Mary dying from pancreatic cancer and how I admire her as she embraces this new path in her life odyssey, the bottom drops out of my confidence, when it’s a child. The grief is heavy, the weight of a family’s loss is palpable.

It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed the agony. Some years ago, I went to a viewing of a baby who had died of SIDS. The mother was so distraught that she pulled the lifeless, embalmed child from the coffin and carried her around the room of the funeral chapel. She was inconsolable. And there was nothing to say.

Every step of faith in the face of pain and trauma and sorrow, is an excursion into the mind of Christ, a dance with the Holy Spirit, a siege at the entrance of the “holy of holies.” But the answer is always the same, “God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, God’s ways are not my ways.”

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another-way“This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick . . . “ [Isaiah 43:16-17.

Whether you believe or not that God actually divided the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to walk through unharmed while destroying the Egyptian army that followed after them [Exodus 14], there is a message here for all of us.

It is God who makes the way in the midst of trials or darkness. It may not be the path we want to take; it may not be the most obvious path; it may feel dangerous. But God’s way is still the best way.

Of course, we can always argue with God if we disagree with the direction. But then, there are repercussions, a chain reaction if you will, when we choose another way. And, for a season, circumstances may seem dire. It’s important to see the situation for what it is. Change cannot happen without truth.

I wish I could figure these things out while they are happening instead of in hindsight. I look back, and say, “Oh, you meant for me to go that way!” Like Homer Simpson: “Doh!”

You see, because I am so friggin’ capable, I am quick to analyze the paths ahead and I often take the one that seems best to me (not necessarily best FOR me). And as I’m going along, I suddenly get this feeling,  this overwhelming sense that I have blown it, again. It is in this moment of recognition that I must stay for a season. In order to see clearly, I must live in it (not deny it). And then, God shows up. More than likely, I will never find my way back to the original way God intended, but another way is revealed. God is full of back doors. And I am grateful.

So, I just want to encourage others: even when we blow it, God doesn’t give up on us. There is no mistake or sin that God cannot rectify or redeem. I believe this wholeheartedly. I have to. Otherwise, life would indeed overwhelm me.

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heart sunDo not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [Matthew :19-21]

What do I treasure really?

I cherish my family and feel very fortunate to have a nice home, a stable marriage, and three good kids who are growing up to be productive adults. I love my extended family and in general, they are also secure and in relative good health. But, are they my treasures. Really?

I adore my pets (all six of them) and I miss them terribly when I travel.

I have very few precious jewels, in fact, I’m pretty sure I only have one and I wear it every day on my ring finger. I have a few antiques of minimal value and I have some paintings that were done by friends and family which I would grieve if they were lost in a fire or whatever.

I have my manuscripts, still in progress, and that would be devastating, so much work lost. And yes, I truly do treasure these personal efforts, these collected words of heart. I think I should probably back those up.

I would hate to lose my good camera or the hard drive with all the pictures. I would hate to lose the things I purchased as mementos of my travels or the books I’ve accumulated over the years.

None of these things, not people, not things can I take with me into the next dimension, that other world, that heaven. It is only spirit that travels on and the strength and wholeness of my spirit is dependent on the care with which I have interacted with the Holy Spirit. My faith now will make a difference. The way I live in the Presence changes me. The Christ directs me . . . if I allow it.

It’s the surrender part that always gets in the way. And yet, I know, intellectually, how critical it is for this surrender to take place daily, hourly, and even minute by minute. It is surrender to the Spirit that builds treasure, an everlasting treasure. This is part of the mystery.

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time is now[If you truly fast . . . ] Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” [Isaiah 58:9-10]

Oh the promises God gives in so many different voices. I am slow. I am slow to respond with internal change.

I am reading a book by John Sarno, M.D. on healing back pain (and many other aches & pains) through a mind-body connection that we have lost. And in it, he says how slowly the subconscious responds to change. In another venue (not sure if it was a book, web site, or magazine article), I read about the difficulties that overweight people have in maintaining their weight loss and that the body, for many years even, wants to return to its former (heavier) state. It’s literally a battle within for the psyche to accept the “new you.” Or,  I think of more serious scenarios where abused and battered women stay in marriages and partnerships because it became the norm and a “new normal” hard to imagine.

These illustrations reveal tendencies in my personal spirit too. I have a comfort zone within which my spirit does not adapt out of easily. Our bodies, our minds, and our spirits experience a time of confusion when we try something new, when we step out of the familiar, when we dip our toes into unknown waters.

jumping inHow do you walk into the ocean? Do you run full tilt and jump headlong into the frigid waves, exulting in that blasting sensation? Or, are you like me, slowly wading in and letting each body part get used to the water beforslow ocean walke going the next step, the next depth. Only when the ocean takes charge and bursts over my plan do I give in and dunk in. But there are times when I don’t even get past my knees. Maybe the first steps are too cold or too rocky or too slimy and I turn back. I don’t give the ocean a chance to envelope me. I go back to the sand (and really how comfortable is that?).

There are four parts to a complete Lenten experience:  fasting (the change up), prayer (the conversation),generosity (reaching out to others), and confession (owning up to our mistakes). This is the perfect time to enter the ocean of God’s love, God’s invitation, Christ’s work, and the Holy Spirit’s waters. Whether slow or fast, the time is now.

I will never be one to jump in with full abandon. But I do commit to a slower journey. I choose it. I choose to work inward so that my outward self becomes less judgmental, more connected, and filled with the Light of Christ. I want my night to become like noonday. It’s a process. And like everyone else, it’s outside my comfort zone.

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