Invitations for Lent

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom… For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” –Isaiah 35: 1, 6-7, NRSV

I am prayerfully drawn to the image of flowers blossoming in the desert. It speaks to the condition of my own soul as I enter this Lenten Season, to the way God surprises me with beauty and grace even in places I perceived as dry, desolate, or barren. It also reminds me that though the Lenten journey leads necessarily through the wilderness, it also leads to abundant life.

Again we walk this holy, perplexing way that increasingly confronts the cultural norms of consumerism, distraction, and self-promotion. Lent is the way of intentional emptiness, deeper presence, surrender, and love.

May this Lenten wilderness come as grace, as rest, as holy surprise for you this year.
May it open space for your deepest longings and hold gently your most urgent questions.
May each release of what crowds or constricts be an opening into freedom and joy.
May the sifting of choices and voices bring the blessing of clarity about what matters most.
May you be sustained by waters breaking forth in the desert, by blossoms of beauty in barren places that astonish and delight.

Here are a few suggestions for your journey… 

  1. Notice if there is a spiritual practice or prayer form you are drawn to as a way of reflecting daily on the meaning and invitation of Lent in your life. Suggestions include fasting, silence/centering prayer, and the prayer of examen. You can read about these practices below.
  2. Spiritual Preparation for 2019 World Conference: The Lenten journey can be both personal and communal. As we enter this season of discernment, members and friends of Community of Christ also prepare for pilgrimage to World Conference, seeking God’s wisdom and guidance as we gather as global community to make faithful decisions for the future. You can access the 40 Days of Spiritual Preparation here: https://www.cofchrist.org/common/cms/documents/World-Conference/40-days-to-WC2019.pdf
  3. Spend time with one of these guides for personal or group reflection throughout the Lenten Season:

Suggested Spiritual Practices for the Lenten Season

FASTING

“Fasting calls a person to authenticity. It empties us, literally, of all the non-essentials in our lives so we have room for God. It lifts our spirits beyond the mundane. Fasting confronts our consumer mentality with a reminder of what it is to be dependent on God.” –Joan Chittister

During the season of Lent, we fast for 40 days remembering Christ’s own fast in the wilderness. A Lenten fast typically lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter morning except for Sundays. It is a time to focus on what matters most amid the many distractions that fill our days. Fasting is about making space for God. Choose something from everyday life you will noticeably miss. This could be a food item, a meal itself, an activity, or something you buy daily or weekly that may be an excess in your life. It could also be intentionally reorienting your daily routine or inner conversation. Remember that fasting is about intention more than rigidity. We fast to draw closer to God and others, not to prove our spiritual endurance! There is joy and grace in the discipline of fasting when we practice it with humility and love. (Excerpt adapted from A Guide for Lent, www.cofchrist.org)

CENTERING PRAYER

In the pattern of Lent, Centering Prayer cultivates simplicity and surrender as we grow in awareness of divine presence. Choose an amount of time that you will be in silence. The suggested time-frame is 20 minutes, but start with a time that feels natural to you. Allow the rhythm of your breath to draw you deeper and deeper into silence. As you breathe, claim one sacred word (Christ, peace, grace, trust, etc.) emerging as an anchor to return you to the intention of your silent prayer when your thoughts begin to wander.

Gently release the thoughts and images that come, making space for presence to the One who is with you here and now. Release, return, “be vulnerable to divine grace.” (Doctrine and Covenants Section 163:10b)

PRAYER OF EXAMEN

The Prayer of Examen invites us into sacred review by searching our memories and seeking God’s presence in all things. Through this prayer, we become aware of the Spirit’s presence and invitation in the entirety of our human experience.

  • Pray for Light: Begin by taking a few deep breaths and imagining yourself in God’s gaze of unconditional love and grace. Pray for the light to illuminate the spaces in your life where God is seeking to be revealed.
  • Offer Gratitude: For what are you grateful this day? Where have you been most aware of the presence of God?
  • Review Memories: Allow memories to surface within you (of the past day, week, or month) regardless of whether they seem mundane or significant. Pay attention to how you felt as you engaged the different aspects of your day, spent time in relationships, and carried out responsibilities.
  • Confess and Reconcile: Gently and honestly notice the places in your memories where you felt most disconnected from God’s presence. What patterns of thought or behavior restricted your response to God’s call? What situations or relationships are in need of reconciliation? The aim of this movement of the prayer is not to induce shame, but to stoke our awareness of thoughts and actions contrary to our deep desire for connection with God, others, and creation.
  • Discern the Future: Take a few moments to consider your future. Anticipate the circumstances and decisions that lie ahead. Imagine what life could look like as you become more available to God’s invitation in every moment, in all things. Close your time of prayer by offering your life, and your future, to God.

Upcoming Events and Invitations

We invite you to consider two upcoming spiritual experiences with Spiritual Formation Ministries. The first, “Life in the Spirit” is a weekend retreat in Kirtland, Ohio (October 26-28, 2018) focused on creating a rule, or rhythm, of life that connects us with our deep desires and honors our life realities. The registration deadline for this retreat is October 1, 2018.

The second is an online Advent experience,“Into the Unknown: Embracing Advent Mystery,” where we will explore how uncertainty, unknowing, and mystery are essential for spiritual growth. Participants will be invited to share in 4 online gatherings and will receive a participant booklet with spiritual practices and reflections to use throughout the season.

For both of these events, spaces are limited. For more information, click on the images below or contact Katie Harmon-McLaughlin (Spiritual Formation Ministries) at khmclaughlin@cofchrist.org.

Blessings to you in all the ways you continue to seek and grow in the Spirit!

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INTO THE UNKNOWN

An Invitation to Lent

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries 

You are invited into daily Lenten reflections through the Daily Bread Blog. You can subscribe here. 

Throughout the Lenten season, we are offering a focus on apophatic spirituality and contemplative prayer expressed through writer’s experiences, questions, and reflections. Apophatic prayer (without image) invites us to dwell in God as Divine Mystery. In the spirit of Lent, we enter the emptiness and resist the temptation to fill it with our own words, images, and ideas. We trust that the One who is the source of all forms and images is present here and now.

Invitation to Practice: Increasing the Silence 

Consider spending time in silence each day during the Lenten season (see the practice of Centering Prayer below). You may start with one minute and work your way up to twenty minutes. Each day, or week, as you spend time in personal prayer or gather with others, increase the amount of time you are willing to encounter the Divine Presence in the silence. In a time of many voices, opinions, and agendas, you are invited to enter the empty spaces that still remain to LISTEN for the ONE VOICE who is still guiding the way to deeper life.  

CENTERING PRAYER: A Prayer of Self-Emptying Love 

Choose an amount of time to be in silence.

You may start with five minutes, gradually increasing the amount of time whenever you return to this prayer.

Begin by breathing deeply and acknowledging that you are already in the presence of God HERE AND NOW. There is nothing more you need to do to be IN divine presence.

Allow a sacred word (Christ, grace, peace, etc.) to emerge within you that you will use to return you to the intention of being present with God every time your thoughts begin to wander.

Invite God to EMPTY YOU of whatever thoughts, images, or distractions arise in your time of prayer… even if it seems like a divine revelation! Let it go. If it is important, trust that it will return at another time. This is about TOTAL PRESENCE and OPENNESS to the reality of God in this moment.

Gradually notice yourself sinking into the silence, resting in the presence of God even if at first it feels like your mind is full of incessant chatter and distraction. Practice grace. The point isn’t perfection– it is RELATIONSHIP with the ONE who desires your attention and love RIGHT NOW, RIGHT HERE, AS YOU ARE.

When you wander, RETURN. The return is sacred.

When your time of prayer has ended, BREATHE DEEP and GIVE THANKS.

Trust that this presence is with you in every moment throughout your day.

Every moment is an opportunity to empty yourself of whatever keeps you from attention to divine love.

Download a PDF of this practice here: Centering Prayer

Entering the Emptying Way: Ash Wednesday 

Perhaps you have been here before. Maybe you greet this path like an old friend…or you dread its opening. Maybe you know the cost of walking its way and what it is worth. Maybe your attachments and addictions already know what’s coming, already start to relent at the signpost that marks this familiar road in the soul.

Or maybe this is your first time. Maybe you are clutching tightly to what is already being released in you, grasping firmly to what is slipping through your fingers—never yours to hold. Maybe it feels like worlds are crumbling within as the images and words you’ve come to rely on begin to hollow, a space opening for what is unseen blowing through.

Maybe you’ve been searching for this path. Maybe it found you. Maybe you have arrived at just the right time. Maybe its presence alone is disrupting what was working just fine for now. However you enter this emptying way, you are welcome here. No one can walk this way for you, but the promise is that you are not walking it alone.

This is the path where every step is a shedding, every turn a deepening. It is the path of surrendering whatever in us restricts our free presence and response to the One who is the Way itself. It may take time to recognize the grace accompanying each release, the immeasurable Presence filling every space made from letting go.

Blessings on your Lenten Journey!