Justice and the Wilderness Way

Lenten Practice: Examen
Daily Act: Stand for justice. Is there an issue in your community or in the world that is calling you to engage in a deeper way? (For example: Write a letter to a political leader or give money to a sustainable cause to align your life with God’s vision of shalom.)
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.


by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

The desert way of Lent does not waste time removing us from the comfortable status quo where our lives can sometimes settle. There is no hierarchy in the desert… just an ancient, holy, evolutionary pattern making life possible in seemingly desolate conditions. There is adaptation and endurance. There is resourcefulness and stewardship of bodily (and spiritual) reserves in dry times. There is surprising grace in the rare rain that pours out unrestricted on all life in equal measure.

In The Wisdom of The Desert, Thomas Merton describes the profound social and spiritual implications of the 4th century desert fathers and mothers. When Christianity became the religion of the empire, a trickle of concerned Christians made their way into the harshness of the wilderness to seek and preserve what they believed mattered most in the Christian life. Knowing how vulnerable we are to comfort, convenience, and status, they made every effort at great personal sacrifice to rid themselves of anything that kept them from being free in God’s Spirit to keep the mission of Christ alive in their time.

Merton suggests:

We cannot do exactly what they did. But we must be as thorough and as ruthless in our determination to break all spiritual chains, and cast off the domination of alien compulsions, to find our true selves, to discover and develop our inalienable spiritual liberty and use it to build, on earth, the Kingdom of God… Let it suffice for me to say that we need to learn from these men of the fourth century how to ignore prejudice, defy compulsion and strike out fearlessly into the unknown. (P.24, The Wisdom of The Desert)

Lent is about justice. Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days of spiritual resistance before he came back to unroll the scroll of Isaiah and provocatively proclaim his mission. (Luke 4:18-19) Sometimes it takes that long… sometimes longer… for us to shed our compulsions and addictions to the systems of exploitation we have come to rely on. It can take that long to realize how we have become too comfortable, how the allure of settling in to the culture around us is too easy, how our prophetic vision grows dull when we are drenched in the shallow benefits of the same world we are called to question and transform.

Like Jesus, and the desert abbas and ammas, we learn that the journey into the wilderness is not just a solitary way. It is a strengthening journey of transformation to sharpen again our prophetic lens and return to our cultures with God’s Spirit on fire within us- seeking shalom potential and resisting everything that is not.

For those who attend summer camps and reunions, you may get a taste of this wilderness effect on your way of seeing. Many describe those first few days home when things don’t feel quite right. There is a struggle to articulate what you have experienced to the ones you enter back into the normal rhythms of everyday life with. Imagine if it were not just a week, but forty days! The same thing can happen to those who travel to other countries and return to their own with a slightly different perspective. Having stepped outside the norms, stepping back in can feel disjunctive.

This is what Lent is. The wilderness way leads to justice and peace.

That disjunctive feeling? Hold onto it. Dare to stay in it just for a while. Return to it, in love, as often as you can. Let the dissonance form your response. It is a holy discomfort. It is a sacred way of seeing. It is the kingdom of God within you rubbing its sharp edges against the oppression and injustice we become blinded to otherwise. The Christian life is a constant practice in adjusting our prophetic vision.

What do you see? How does the wilderness way of Lent form your response?

Sacred Restraint

Lenten Practice: Fasting
Daily Act: When we move toward lives of simplicity, we use less of the Earth’s precious resources as well. Today, choose to conserve in a way that will be a blessing to creation. Decrease or eliminate your use of electricity, water, or fuel for one day. Repeat this week’s prayer phrase throughout your day.
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.


By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

One of my first revelatory moments of recognizing the incarnate God came in the mundane choice to recycle. I held the plastic bottle in my hands and faced the temptation of convenience. While the trash bin was right beside me, the recycle bin was across the room and around the corner.

A phrase from my eco-theology class drifted into my consciousness, “The whole world is the body of God.” (Sallie McFague)

If the whole earth is sacred, then earth care is also prayer.
Each act of earth care is healing, co-creation, relationship.

I chose to walk to the recycle bin, each step prayerful. I held the bottle above the bin with a ceremonial slowness and released it with a full-hearted intention. It is difficult to explain the peace and purpose that can come from living in a way that recognizes and honors our inherent interconnectedness with all life. That this is biological and spiritual evokes awe in me, and abounding gratitude.

Today our act of emptying is linked to a prayerful act of earth healing. In Red, Terry Tempest Williams suggests, “We have forgotten the option of restraint.” We have become so accustomed to convenience that the option of intentionally restraining seems almost foolish. Why would I choose to sit in the dark one night when I can turn on the light? Why would I choose to walk somewhere when I can drive? It is countercultural to imagine that restraint from what is readily accessible could be a form of prayer.

And consider this: What gift could a night in the dark bring? If you unplugged for an evening, what might be yearning to emerge within you that is currently being drowned out by the constant murmur of the television? If you chose to walk instead of drive, what might you notice along the way? What new neighbor might you meet? What new insight might a few moments of fresh air bring?

Lent is a call to Christian simplicity. We enter this time to remove every distraction from fullest life in God… every distraction.

Terry Tempest Williams describes her choice to move to the desert as seeking the more of life in a deliberate emptiness. “We wanted more. We wanted less. We wanted more time, fewer distractions. We wanted more time together, time to write, to breathe, to be more conscious with our lives. We wanted to be closer to wild places where we could walk and witness the seasonal changes, even the changing constellations… In the vastness of the desert, I want to create my days as a ceremony around s l o w n e s s ….”

While many of us can’t just move to the desert, we can begin to see more clearly the link between our spiritual health and the health of the planet we call home.

How might the more we are seeking be living within the invitation of less?

REMINDER: March 1, 2015 is the registration deadline for our upcoming Lenten Retreat with Presiding Evangelist, David Brock. The theme is INTO THE WILDERNESS (March 13-15). If you are seeking a deeper exploration of the season of Lent in your life and yearn to grow closer with God, we would love to share this experience with you! Email khmclaughlin@cofchrist.org if you have any questions.

Lenten Spiritual Retreat with Presiding Evangelist David Brock.  March 13-15, 2015 Click here to register!
Lenten Spiritual Retreat with Presiding Evangelist David Brock.
March 13-15, 2015
Click here to register!

For Courage

Lenten Practice: Fasting
Daily Act: Create space within by opening your heart to another. Whom will you let in today? How do you experience God when you make genuine space for others in your life?
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.


For Courage
By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

Blessings of courage to you
In each opening
Of your deepest self
To someone else

In daring to see
The holy
In another life

In each response
To what you see

Blessings of courage to you
When you encounter
Strangers in this desert
And feel the urge of hospitality
Deep in your bones
Welcoming and receiving
With a surprisingly open heart
Despite the pounding fear
Of the unknown
Only to discover
You’ve been entertaining

Blessing upon each encounter
That you may risk naming them

Even with your boss
Even with your spouse
Even with your co-worker
Even with your child
Even with the bus driver
The grocery clerk
The person delivering your mail
Even with the ones
You struggle to love

And the many faces that pass
So often unnoticed
On your way to somewhere
Now beacons of the divine love
You’ve come here to seek

So many people
In this desert place
Seeking some form
Of a glass of water
A loaf of bread
A kind-hearted smile

And God says-
I will you meet you here
In each one
In us all

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2, NRSV