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.

BEING DUST: Ash Wednesday

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

At 12,000 feet, my worry began to dissolve into the grandeur of the mountains as Rocky Mountain National Park stretched out before me. The previous several months had been so arduous that I practically crashed into a week of vacation. It took days to unwind and begin to relax, to release some of the dis-ease so present in my heart over all that I could not fix. As I gazed at the mountains, I felt something shift deep within me. It felt restorative. A phrase emerged that began to soften all the sharp edges of my anxiety and despair, “Awe is the most reliable cure for overwhelm.”

I repeated this phrase with every step as I drank in beauty, vast and incomprehensible. It was my utter smallness that began to form release from the tight grasp to control. Something about the immensity of the landscape, and the humility born of my vulnerability within it, put into perspective all that had been restricting full presence.

Holiness lives where awe and humility meet.

This is the message of Ash Wednesday. We remind each other on this sacred day, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) It may sound like doom and gloom or reason for public shame, but the point is far from self-deprecation.

“You are dust” triggers memory for ancient hearers of the creation story where God breathed life into the very dust of the earth, from which we came. (Genesis 2:7) Being dust is not a bad thing. It is the reality of our profound identity as member of a complex, interconnected family of creation. We are reminded that our very bones and muscles, flesh and breath come out of and are sustained by the earth, which is sacred. We are made of what is ancient. Every particle we consume has a lineage of life beyond our imagining. Consuming it, it becomes part of us. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, has passed through countless life forms throughout history. To consider the cosmic origins of the dust we are is even more breathtaking.

How could we ever have thought we were in this alone? On Ash Wednesday, we smudge the material stuff of earth upon our flesh and reaffirm our place within it.

It would be inauthentic to this text to simply dwell in the blessing of dust when these words to our ancestors sounded more like a curse, “… and to dust you shall return.” Just as we revel in the profound relatedness inherent in our dust-being, we are reminded of the profound consequence of living in denial of that relatedness. This consequence is not punishment. It is not meant to shame or place blame. When our lives are so radically and inextricably connected, everything has impact on the whole. The humble way of Lent invites us to restoration and reconciliation that begins with an acknowledgement of the ways we have walked upon the dust forgetting we are part of it.

If we could remember that our lives are holy connected beyond what we can know, perhaps the fear and anxiety of this time would dissipate into awe, as did my despair into the mountains. Humility may be the way to the redemption of the world.

On Ash Wednesday, we face the reality and inevitability of mortality with reverence. We remember just how fragile and fleeting life is. We ponder the source from which we came and seek to realign our lives more closely toward it. We allow ourselves to be captured by what is immense, to find surprising solace in what we cannot control or explain, to be saved by our smallness.

We confess what is broken because we yearn to be whole. This is less about a God who needs our confession, and more about humanity that needs to rekindle an awareness of what is truly sacred. God’s breath into the dust of our lives means that we are made of dust divine– ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From where we come we will return.

When our lives feel too frantic, when the world feels divided, when the pressures of the moment mount impassable within…
When our priorities are misplaced, our relationships strained, and the future unseen tempts hopelessness in our hearts…
May we pause to remember that we are dust, holy and connected.

May this Lenten path lead to the meeting places of humility and awe, where we are restored and made whole again.

PETITION

Lenten Practice: Silence
Daily Act: Before you begin your day of work or activity, silently offer this prayer (taken from Psalm 46:10), which is best said with a rhythmic chanting of the words and a pause for contemplation after each line. You may choose to end the day with this same prayer.

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“HOLY MYSTERY, I AM SPEECHLESS IN YOUR PRESENCE.”

Today’s post is written by David Brock, Community of Christ Presiding Evangelist.
What prayers do you utter in the holy week moments of your life?

Petition
By David Brock

Our most primal prayers are those of petition, God.
In moments of panic we blurt out our brief,
passionate pleas and toss out our bargaining chips:
Protect our perfect or imperfectly parented child.
Make up the difference in our hastily prepared sermon.
Cover us as we approach our next looming deadline.

With sighs too deep for words, we plead
for a cure at the bedside of a loved one.
In a groan from our deepest interior, we join
the psalmist in a longing for cleansed heart
and renewed spirit; the prophet’s heart of flesh
in exchange for one of stone.

Please stop this interminable internal ache.
Let us see but a shadow’s promise of light
in the world’s heart of darkness, We beseech
Thee, God of grace. We are ministers of vision
who cannot see far enough on our own;
people of capacity who cannot be or do
all that is needed without each other, or you.

Forgive us, we implore you.
Give us, and the world, your beauty
for our ashes, the oil of joy for tears;
a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.