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Lent 2015: Wandering in the Desert

By Mary Domb Mikkelson, United Church of Christ of La Mesa

MaryDombMikkelson3“Lent is not just a lesson in discipline, but also an invitation to know a deeper understanding of beauty and living simply.”

The words of Helen Likins of Saint John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Florida, speak to me of what I am seeking during Lent this year.  Sanctuary.  Simplicity.  Silence.  Hermitage.  Rest.  Renewal.  Especially renewal.  As in the 23rd Psalm.:  “He restoreth my soul.”

It has been a rough year and I’m ready to shed its burdens, to walk with God through the cleansing heat of the Lenten desert in search of green pastures and still waters.  Likins’ “understanding beauty” and  “living simply” sound good to me.

Beauty.  That’s easy.  Right?

John Muir said it well, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

Beauty can be found in the ordinary as well as the singular—in listening and sharing; in a child’s laughter; in breaking bread; in the light of a prayer candle; in the crashing of waves, a bird’s call and the scent of a flower.  It’s all around us—in love and loving care, in growth, in knowledge, in worship…the list is long and, yes, beautiful.   God help us see it…and welcome it.

But… Beauty can be kept at bay in the face of pain.. disappointment… sorrow… loss… anger…fear.

A popular poster says, “It’s up to you to find beauty in the ugliest day.”  How’s that for a Lenten discipline?

I’m giving it a try.

Join me?

Maybe together we can find the beauty in the shadows by resisting, as did our Lord, the desert’s “wild beasts” and “evil” and accepting instead the cosseting of “angel’s wings.”

We can start, perhaps, by assimilating the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”

Lenten Practice 1:  What beauty can I offer the world today?

Living simply is harder…a lot harder, even in a time when “tiny houses” are a growing phenomenon.  I know I’m not ready to consolidate my possessions and activities into 400 square feet or fewer.  Even less am I likely to cram my life into a backpack and set out to traverse the Pacific Crest Trail ala Wild’s Cheryl Strayed.   Fascinated by both, yes, but…

But what of other baggage?  Anger?  Failure?  Loss?  Hurt?  Envy?  Pride?  Arrogance?  Control?  Speaking of long lists!

Our walk in the Lenten desert demands, as did Jesus’s long ago 40 day one, the simplicity of shedding that which might weigh us down, allow us to fall victim to the dangers awaiting us. Sounds like a plan.

Lenten Practice 2:   Which frailty can I cast off today?

Beauty.  Simplicity.  Think of the long-term benefits!  Imagine, if you will, life slowed down long enough to understand and cherish  the words of Alice Walker, “Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul.” And remember, praying has a similar effect.

Lenten Practice 3:   Pray the Psalms, #23 in particular.

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