Lenten Formation

By Janné Grover, Disciple Formation Ministries

It’s easy to have a cynical attitude regarding the benefit of Lenten disciplines. Does giving up chocolate for 40 days (minus the Sunday oases) really lead a person deeper into their call and commitment as a disciple of Jesus Christ? If giving something up, or adding something to, our daily living is good for Lent; shouldn’t we be doing it all the time? I have wrestled with these questions. I’ve had the cynical attitude; but I have discovered rich layers of meaning and formation through Lenten encounter. Each experience of Lent leads me more deeply into the next. It is not simply the “giving up” or “adding to” that makes Lent meaningful. In fact, we must be careful not to let fasting and almsgiving reflect self-righteousness or self-centered privilege. Allowing our Lenten journey to shape us as disciples opens us to more fully receive again the Easter gift. Our response to Christ-like ministry is shaped in new ways when we align our deepest longings with the stubborn hope that Christ makes real in the world.

Jesus invites us into this intentional rhythm of Spirit-led ministry, as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. Claimed by the Spirit’s presence in baptism (Luke 3:21–22), Jesus is led by the Spirit into his wilderness experience (Luke 4:1). Filled with the Spirit, he emerges from the wilderness encounter to proclaim his mission with, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18). In his wilderness experience, Jesus was tempted by the powers of the world, to which he responded with his sacred “No.” His statement of mission honors the people and circumstances to which he offers his sacred “Yes!” Exploring the deep places of our soul is not an “ordinary time” practice. Wilderness explorations are extraordinary. They cause us to look authentically at our deepest soul places and our tendencies toward resistance. Practices of sacred restraint help us focus on what matters most; to what and whom we offer our sacred “no,” as well as our sacred and joyful “Yes!” Lenten disciplines reinforce our need for life-rhythms that reflect the joy, love, peace, sorrow, and stubborn hope embodied in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Author Ted A. Smith writes, “Lent is a kind of spring training for Ordinary Time.” In the liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time is when we focus on our call as disciples through Jesus’ teaching and ministry. Lent is a time for focused spiritual renewal and deepening commitment to what it means to follow Jesus to the cross and beyond. This time of renewal and deepened commitment shapes how we are able to magnify our calling to Christ-like ministry. Lenten practices help guide and shape our response to loosening the bonds of injustice, freeing the oppressed, caring for the homeless poor and hungry, and nurturing right relationships (adapted from Isaiah 58:6–7). This is at the heart of the call for all disciples—to accept Christ’s mission as our mission. The words have become so familiar to us it is easy to think we have been fully formed in our understanding. But “God has work for us to do” (“Till All the Jails Are Empty,” Community of Christ Sings 303). There is deep, soul-tending, disciple-forming work for each of us to do. This work is not so that individuals can bask in self-righteousness. The work of Lent guides us to more fully and authentically engage in the world-changing mission of embodied Easter hope.

Freed to Say Yes

by Dustin Davis, Spiritual Formation Team

When it comes to church life, I have a hard time saying no. If someone is needed to teach a class, cook for the congregation, or fill an open preaching slot, I can usually be counted on to step up to the plate. When it comes to the spiritual life, I have a hard time saying yes. If God is urging me to take the next step on my journey, detach from my ego to honestly but lovingly look at my motivations and judgements, or simply notice God’s presence all around, I will usually sweep it under the rug. (Why doesn’t God just ask me to plan worship instead?) This is why I find Mary so inspiring.

In the birth narrative in Luke, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells her that she will give birth to a son who will be the Son of God. (Talk about disruptive!) How, Mary wonders, can this be? The angel assures her, “Do not be afraid… for nothing will be impossible with God,” By the end of their encounter Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” (Luke 1:26-38). Can you imagine not only saying yes to such a request, but saying it so freely and completely? I can only guess that Mary was responding from the deep well within that springs forth as a result of a rich and connected spiritual life.

St. Francis of Assisi once wrote in Letter to All the Faithful, “We are mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ when we carry him in our hearts and in our bodies, lovingly, and with a pure and sincere conscience, and give birth to him through the working of his grace in us which should shine forth as an example to others.” Certainly Mary’s yes, carrying Jesus, and then giving birth to him shines as an example for us today of what total freedom and commitment in and to God looks like, but can I really do the same?

St. Francis would say yes. In fact, he is saying that all are called to the sacred and profound task of bearing and birthing Jesus into this world and by so doing declaring the advent, or coming, of the Kingdom of God in our own time and place. Joan Chittister is surely saying the same when she writes in The Liturgical Year, “It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent, that we come to realize that its coming depends on us.” You see, we are not just waiting for baby Jesus to show up. It is through our actions during our waiting, our saying yes, that Jesus comes again and again into this world!

As we begin this advent journey, there is one thing I think important to note. When Mary said, “Let it be with me according to your word,” she surely did not know the particulars of the journey that lie ahead, let alone its scope or impact. (She might have said no if she did!) The same is true for us. To say yes to God means letting go of our preplanned destinations and well-mapped routes to get there. Through intimate relationship with God – the work of the spiritual life – we come to a liberating trust that God sees the “bigger picture” that we cannot. Although perhaps scary at first, if we can learn to travel in trust like Mary, we can also travel assured like Mary that nothing is impossible with God. We are freed to say yes in response to the one who first says yes to us!

Spiritual Practice: What is currently restricting your free yes in response to God’s deep invitation in your life? Pray for the ability to freely offer your yes to God.

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Are you searching for ways to go deeper this Advent? Click the image above for a free Advent spiritual retreat resource.