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!
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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?