3 Lenten Lessons

The Final Stretch

Wow, Lent is long, isn’t it?

At the beginning, when we talk about 40 days  – less than 6 weeks! — it sounds so simple and doable, like the kind of thing I can mark off in my planner. Easier than a New Year’s resolution, right?

I come up with some theme or scripture passage or spiritual practice, and I’m set… And then it takes about four days to forget what I’m doing and lose focus. Every year.

By the time we get here, to the final stretch before Holy Week, it feels like mile 25 of a marathon, like I’m just crawling to Easter. The book that I was supposed to be using for daily devotionals is mocking me from my nightstand, my meditation practice has gotten lost in the hectic reality that is church work in the spring, and I’m just ready for that tomb to be empty already!

But Lent is really just a season to intentionally notice and invite whatever is emerging in our souls. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy.

So, as Lent draws to a close, as we enter the final stretch, I thought I’d share three Lenten lessons that are emerging in me.

1. “My image of God creates me”

This is a phrase I’ve learned from Richard Rohr. It has been sticking with me, like a mantra, and reminding me to consider not only what kinds of God images I carry within my heart, but what they mean about me. Our understanding of God and our understanding of humanity are intertwined. As Father Rohr writes:

The miracle of grace and true prayer is that they invade the unconscious mind and heart (where our real truth lies) — and thus really change us! They invade them so much that the love of God and the love of self invariably proceed forward together. On the practical level, they are experienced as the same thing! (From Yes, And, 8)

I think there is something sacred and critical about developing self-compassion, and that process is not divorced from our spiritual work. Loving humanity, that includes ourselves, is part of learning to love God.

2. Listen to the ocean of silence

This one’s really simple: meditation is important.

Lest you think that I’ve learned this during Lent by having some superhero meditation practice, it’s more accurate to say I’m learning this by omission. Lent ushers in a busy season in the ministry world, and I have noticed my quiet time steadily diminishing as Easter approaches. In the absence of a steady meditation practice, I have noticed myself to be more tense, more frantic, more busy.

As Rumi writes:

Inside me a hundred beings
are putting their fingers to their lips and saying
“That’s enough for now. Shhhh.” Silence
is an ocean. Speech is a river.
When the ocean is searching for you, don’t walk
to the language-river. Listen to the ocean,
and bring your talky business
to an end.
(from “Send the Chaperones Away”)

Not a particularly radical or comforting spiritual lesson, but a clear and timely one.

3. Creation precedes Consumption

An artist friend of mine recently told me how much easier it is to teach art to children than to adults. Adults are more self-critical, more resistant to try new things, and more prone to copy whatever teaching example you show them. Young children, in her words, say “Just give me the paint brush!!” They’re ready to dive in and try and are less concerned with what counts as “good” art to an outside observer.

Somewhere along the way, it seems, we are learning and integrating that habit of self-consciously stifling our creativity.

I think that extends to the spiritual realm as well. I am often asked to pray in group settings because I’m considered the “expert,” despite my insistence that prayer is casual, open, and accessible. People, even very smart or religious people, frequently tell me that they’re not theologians, so their ideas about God and faith don’t count as much.

I find these kind of reactions a little bit baffling and a large bit disheartening, and I try to encourage people to embrace their natural spiritual creativity. I wrote recently about cultivating a creative faith – through the theology we teach, the rituals we practice, and the community we build. In my own life, I try to do this in lots of little ways: trying different prayer practices, sitting still in the sunshine, journaling, or playing late-night hymns on my piano.

I also try to practice creating before consuming the creation of others. We all carry our own inspiration within us. I try to make my own music, write my own poetry, or paint my own watercolor before I look to others’ work — not because others don’t inspire me but because I think it’s an important practice to connect to my own vision without the temptation of comparison.

Just give me the paintbrush already!

-  -  -

So as we move into Holy Week, feel free to share some of the lessons this Lent has sown in your life. What are you learning and noticing?

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Filed under Lent 2014, My Faith Journey, Spirituality

One Note Purely

Angel StatueTransformation unfolds widely,
no orderly spirals
contractions and release,
like echoes and shadows, shifting,
the source and reflection confused,

Transformation yields slowly,
pushing itself into palms and heels,
expanding into breadth or
inclining to one side, slightly,
like a limp
that’s subtle and evident.

We are the journeys of our bodies,
bones for frames, hearts for engines,
Yellow Spring Flowercatapulted
through a universe of encounters,
one, after another,
clinging to each other like windmills,
pulling steadily out of grasp,
only to come ’round again in meter,
timed like tides
by some unseen power.

Jesus feet mosaicWe are the gentle vibrations of bells
already rung
in the music of someone else’s life,

not to fade
but to sing one note purely
at the perfect time.

So what else can we do but bow
in honor of yes and no.
What else can we say but
slowly, slowly
we are becoming

(Photos taken at the lovely
Bethany House of Prayer)

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Filed under Lent 2014, Poetry

Lent is for Tending to the Birth

Birth in You

This winter I grew Paperwhites in my windowsills, their tiny hardy bulbs pushed into mason jars and glass bowls and left to grow on their own.

In a New England season so cold the pipes in my house were freezing regularly, the Paperwhites happily offered blooms white enough to match the snow outside. Just stones, sunlight, and a little water. That’s all they need, and they’ll be convinced to bloom even before the spring has come to thaw the ground.

Paperwhite Roots

I put them in clear containers so I could watch their roots reach fragile threads into the rocks. They remind me to wait and watch for new life. They make me think about sustenance, grounding, surviving.

It’s been a long winter, hasn’t it?

The word “Lent” comes from an ancient word for “Spring.” We are in the season of springtime: of newness and birth, of encounter and emergence, of growth and possibility.

Meister Eckhart writes:

“Tend only to the birth in you
and you will find all goodness and all consolation,
all delight, all being and all truth.
Reject it and you reject goodness and blessing.
What comes to you in this birth
brings with it pure being and blessing.”

We aren’t Paperwhites. We need more than just rocks, water, and sunlight to grow through the winter. The birth in us needs to be tended gently, coaxed into being.

That’s what Lent is for: a season to intentionally notice what is emerging in our souls and to invite and shelter whatever it brings with it.

Friends, believe that it is Lent, it is Spring. What is being born in you, and how are you tending to its quiet arrival?

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Filed under Lent 2014, Spirituality