Daily Lenten Reflection

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. –Ephesians 4:25, NRSV

Yet, Holy Week does not offer an invitation to ease the pain, but to enter it. We are invited to enter the heart of suffering and pray our own agonizing Gethsemane prayers: Where are you, God? And, why God? And, how could this happen? Can’t it be another way? What possible spiritual wisdom could reside in the yearly journey into this uncomfortable place?

We have spent the season of Lent practicing restraint in the desert, stripping ourselves of unnecessary baggage, assessing our idols and illusions. Holy Week is the culminating moment of this wilderness season of the spiritual life. It is the time for whatever is false that remains in us to show its face before what is most true. In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor asserts that even pain and suffering can be a spiritual practice because they force us to confront what isn’t real. “Pain strips away all the illusions required to maintain the status quo… Pain is so real that less-real things like who you thought you were and how you meant to act vanish like drops of water flung on a hot stove.” –Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Holy Week: To Enter the Suffering 

Reflect: 

  • When have you experienced difficult moments in life as a time to focus on what is most real and true?
  • What “Gethsemane prayers” have you uttered? What spiritual wisdom have you discovered in these moments?
  • Prayerfully dwell with Ephesians 4:25. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?

The Love Response

by Dustin Davis (Spiritual Formation Team)

Last week we learned of another mass shooting in the United States, a term so
commonplace now that it even has a definition: four or more people killed by gun
violence in a single incident. This one occurred at Umpqua Community College in
Oregon.

What has followed since then has been the now routine response from news outlets,
politicians, advocates on both sides of the gun control debate, and from citizens. And it
seems that apathy is becoming our “new normal” in the face of what was once shocking
and impossible violence. A friend I follow on Twitter posted, “The scariest thing about
today’s mass shooting is not the shooting itself, buy my apathetic response to things like
this now.” I saw many other comments in the same vein.

My favorite call-in show on my local radio station asked last Friday how listeners cope
with such tragedy when it occurs in our country. Caller after caller after caller shared
how they feel hopeless, how they have no faith in our politicians and leaders to pass
legislation and how even if they did they are not sure it would help. Even though it is
safe to assume that no one wants to see such violence continue, it feels as if many are
beginning to check out of the conversation because their hearts are too heavy, have
been broken too many times.

I can relate. Whenever I hear of such news, in the past I have taken a moment to
pause and whisper to myself, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
But even now that seems childish and somewhat trite. It seems that sending my
prayers and good thoughts is no longer enough.

As I was meditating on this feeling of general hopelessness and my own growing sense
of despair, I remembered a quote from Mother Teresa that is painted on the wall in my
congregation’s fellowship hall.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

I have always thought this quote simply sounded nice, another pearl in a long wisdom
necklace. Now, however, it seems to sit in my heart with a very real weight, and
although some might think it naive or dismiss it as wishful thinking, I feel that these
words are our best guide toward a more peaceful future.

This quote, you see, is more than just nice words. It tells us what to do. It is actionable.
It provides a way forward along a dark path where debate and government have failed.
It reminds us of what is most essential. We must remember that we belong to each
other. It asks what our response will be in light of needless violence: hopelessness or
love?

Hopelessness has a firm grasp on us at times, so, for argument’s sake, let’s image what
a love response would look like. For me, I have promised to reach out to my family and
friends the next time I hear about a violent tragedy. I will remind my family that I love
them, and I will send a message to a few friends, perhaps those I have not talked to in a
while, to remind them that I am grateful they are part of my life. In this small way I hope
to remind them of their infinite worth and that they belong to someone. What does a love
response look like for you?

Shootings like the one that just happened in Oregon are a failure on many levels. Some
say it is a political failure. Others say it is a healthcare failure or a security failure. In
some way, all of these are true. I want to add that it is also a failure of individualism.
Somewhere along the way those who plan and carry out mass shootings, or any violent
act for that matter, have forgotten, or never knew, that they belong to others. I cannot
help but wonder if the Oregon shooter remembered that he was a son, maybe a cousin
or nephew, a colleague or a friend. Did he know he was a member of a community?
Did he know he was a child of God?

I will risk being called naive to choose the love response, not just because love feels
better than hopelessness or because I can act on love and not on hopelessness, but
because it is what I, we, are called to do.

Examen for Earth Justice

Examen For Earth Justice 

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.”
-Elizabeth Barret Browning

  1. Take a moment to pause in gratitude. Consider: What does your life depend on? What is the source of blessing in your life? Consider the ways that your life is inextricably connected to the earth. As you begin your time of prayer, pondering your inherent belonging to creation, be aware of each deep breath as sacred, symbol of this connection.
  2. Consider the ways that you live in separation from God, others, and creation. Pause in awareness for the times you seek your own well-being first and don’t consider the welfare of others. How do you participate in destructive attitudes, behaviors, and systems that diminish the worth of others and don’t honor the sacredness of creation?
  3. Reflect back on the previous day. Try to remember each detail, each hour. When did you act in dissonance with God’s vision for creation? When did you act in harmony with God’s vision for creation?
  4. Pray for forgiveness for the times you act as though you are separate from others and creation, for the moments you choose convenience over justice, personal well-being over compassion, busyness over presence, ignorance over awareness, apathy over action.
  5. Give thanks for God’s presence in and through creation. Contemplate the beauty of the earth around you. (If possible, go outside!) Breathe deeply and sense how you are a part of this. You belong simply by being alive. How does God invite you to live this belonging? Discover peace and renewal in the natural rhythms of the earth that surrounds you. Dwell in God’s presence.
  6. Consider how you will live in the days ahead. Pray that you will live from a space of deeper connectivity and compassion with God, others, and creation. Pray that you may become more aware, in all the details of your life, of how God’s shalom yearns to come to expression through you for the sake of the world.

written by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin