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.

ANY BIT OF SPACE

Lenten Practice: Centering Prayer
Daily Act: Consider those who need to experience the peace of God’s presence. Schedule a time to visit someone who may be lonely or isolated. Repeat this week’s prayer phrase throughout your day.
Weekly Prayer Phrase:

I DWELL IN YOU AS THE SOURCE OF ALL LIFE.

Today’s post is a reflection on the practice of Centering Prayer written by Dustin Davis, a member of the Community of Christ Spiritual Formation Team. What are your reflections from this week’s practice?

by Dustin Davis

“God faithfully comes into any bit of space we create for [God].” – Ruth Barton

My time of centering prayer begins in the morning after I’ve eaten breakfast, showered and gotten dressed and packed my bag for work. (I find that I’m too distracted if I try to do this before I’m ready for the day.) I sit in my chair near a window and light a small candle. I get comfortable, feet on the floor, hands resting on the arms of the chair. I offer a two-sentence prayer before I begin. “God, thank you for this time of prayer into which I am about to enter. May I rest in your presence.” I set the timer on my phone for 18 minutes and set it aside. I close my eyes, breathe deeply and do my best to focus on my prayer words Be Still as my attention to God starts to drift or as other thoughts float past. Sometimes it takes longer on some days than on others, but what happens next, as I fall into the company of God and simply be, is a mystery.

When I go running in the mornings it changes the way I feel for the rest of the day. I’m more alert, have a better attitude and just generally feel better. I have noticed that Centering Prayer has largely the same effects. Our lives are so busy, so packed full of stimulation that we rarely take the time to just be. This is certainly not a new observation in the spiritual life, but how refreshing – and culturally subversive – to go against the norm and purposefully pause.

A favorite author of mine, Ruth Barton, talks about the importance of creating sacred space and sacred rhythms in our lives as part of Christian discipleship. One of the themes in her writings that I particularly like is this idea that God uses any time and space we create for God, no matter how big, no matter how small. What a freeing thought! For me I find release in this promise from my false expectations of many spiritual practices and even the larger picture of spiritual transformation. In the light of this promise I am free to let God work as long I make the space.

The Centering Prayer is a humble practice, and this, I think, is what makes it so rejuvenating and so different from other prayers. The fact that it doesn’t rely on my words is liberating and freeing for me. Words are powerful and important to me, and I have a tendency to get hung up on them. (I won’t tell you how many times I’ve re-written this paragraph!) Prayers with words can easily become literary exercises, carefully designed to impress or sound sophisticated even if that is not our intention. In sharp contrast, the Centering Prayer requires only my willingness to be still and instead relies most heavily on God. This is a humble stance to take, one we don’t often assume when we are sponsoring an event at the church or preaching or simply offering the invocation. Spiritual transformation isn’t something we can do by ourselves, despite our best efforts. We foster atmospheres and cultures where we are open to God, but at the end of the day spiritual transformation is the work of God. It is a mystery and a miracle.

As we journey through Lent to the promise of new life I am encouraged by the fact that it is God who creates the new life. Don’t misunderstand me in this. It takes work from me, too, hard work and discipline and often times courage to risk something new. But to surrender to the mysterious work of God is to surrender to the reality that something good is stirring within me. Just as a caterpillar enters into the chrysalis we, too, enter into a time of serious spiritual reflection, and if we simply rest in God’s presence and let God work, we will emerge transformed and as beautiful as the butterfly.

SLASH OF LIGHTNING GOD

Lenten Practice: Centering Prayer
Daily Act: Extend grace to yourself and others throughout the day. When distracted or unaware, feel God’s assuring presence with you. When others are not their best selves, surprise them with a response of grace and love.
Weekly Prayer Phrase:

I DWELL IN YOU AS THE SOURCE OF ALL LIFE.

Today’s post is written by Dave Brock, Community of Christ Presiding Evangelist. Who is this God in whom we dwell? How do you approach the divine mystery?

Slash of Lightning God
By David Brock

Slash of Lightning God,
sparking flame in aged Pine.
Shaft of Sunshine God,
flaring dust motes
afloat in lonely rooms.
Beam of Harvest Moon God,
bobbing for ripples in a mountain stream.

God in laser’s precision cut
burning to heal.
Quickened Insight God
crossing exhausted mind.
God Light through all things,
giving life to all things.
God Light now shining,
enlightening our eyes.
Presence proceeding, filling
immensity of expanding space.

Some days we savor You,
slowly. The couple on a porch swing
at the farm, memorizing every change
in sunset’s color; turning away
only as last light grays, fades,
and slips horizon’s grasp.

Some nights we are the criminal,
or the coward, hiding in shadows,
holding still, holding our breath.
Freeze framed in black,
we pray to escape
the steady, unwavering probe;
the searchlight
of Your pursuing love.

Maybe tomorrow we will seek You,
like the night watchman
on a tall tower,
eyes straining,
heart longing there in the dark
for the first sign of dawn.