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Reflections with Fellow Sojourners: Lenten Journeys 2013

By Rev. Dr. James D. Findlay

     “…your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret…” (Matt. 6:6, 18)

     As we enter and traverse the season of Lent, we become part of a deep tradition, a pathway of our faith, which provides an opportunity for clarification, discernment, and transformation.  Though many have seen the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter as a time of self-denial and confession of sin (and such faith disciplines are certainly valuable!), the texts and natural rhythms of the season provide us with far more than that.  Proceeding through texts on prayer, liturgy, celebration, and discernment, Lent provides us a window into the world and our own souls.

     The Gospel text for Ash Wednesday, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, makes clear that all faith practice, all human religious activity, whether personal or collective, must be truly directed to the Divine to be authentic.  And for Jesus, this means dealing with the God we know “in secret.” Though public and shared rituals and the life of the gathered community, whether in prayer, contrition, or praise, are always worthwhile, the center of our spiritual lives must be our own – and cannot be shared with anyone else.  All prayer is ultimately and truly a secret, shared deeply with the Divine.  This most intimate and honest conversation, whether in whispered words, heartfelt cries, or silence, in which our heart speaks to God’s heart, is known only to us, and to the One.  Though we may share deep closeness with other people whom we love, the One who loves us is closer to us still.  Jesus speaks wisely when he warns us against practicing our piety “before others” (Matt. 6:1).  The most important steps of our journey into God are not taken over earthly terrain, in trips taken from one physical place to another, from home to job or school, to Church, and back again.  Rather, we journey with our God who dwells in the secret places of inner darkness, and all our acts seek to receive blessed reward from the One who sees with the eye within.  As the Lenten journey begins, then, may we practice what Jesus and Joel teach us: “rend our hearts and not our clothing,” (Joel 2:13), and “go into our room and shut the door” (Matt. 6:6).  May this Lent be a time of open-ness of heart, and direct inner focus on God, who sees and loves us in ways that are known only to us and the Divine Embrace.

     As we continue onward, however, we need not be somber or sorrowful, even if we find that we must face our own difficulties, sins, and limitations along the Way.  The name of the sacred season, “Lent,” is related to the English word “lengthen,” and is used because the days lengthen and grow as the time of spiritual attentiveness unfolds.  Various lectionary texts speak of enduring and overcoming spiritual tests, tithing, sacrifice, and focusing on ourselves and not the failings or foibles of others.  But through it all, the Light grows, and life blossoms further.  Winter turns to spring, chill gives way to warmth, darkness to brightness.  Joshua 5 speaks of a Passover meal shared in the Promised Land; Isaiah 43:19 notes that God “is about to do a New Thing;” Isaiah 55:7-9 calls us to return to a God of abundant pardon, whose heavenly reality is readily available and yet beyond us.  Along with Jesus facing Satan in the wilderness (Luke 4), comparing himself to a mother hen (Luke 13), and his anointment by Mary in her act of profound love (John 12), these are all images of growth, blessing, and divinely destined surprise, worthy of contemplation and meditation.  As we continue through Lent, anticipating the Cross, Easter joy, and the work of God’s realm, may we use this season as a time and space of growth: grounded in prayer, meditating on God’s Word, savoring God’s Presence in our lives and the life of the world.  And each day, with every rising up and lying down, every going out and coming in, may we know that our God who is “in secret” guides our outward steps and our inner lives, nurturing us in burgeoning Divine Love.

Note from author: Please feel free to post here at the Conference website, or contact me via e-mail at sleight_of_time@yahoo.com. I wish to engender a conversation among us about how the Word and Spirit are active in our lives, and how we might nurture these gifts further. I also am happy to work with groups and individuals on how to nurture the Word and Spirit among us. Please visit my Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/pages/Spiritual-Accompaniment-Services/219750211459838 as another way of being in this sacred conversation. I look forward to hearing from many of you soon!

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