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.

Daily Lenten Reflection

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. –2 Corinthians 12:8-10, NRSV

Here’s the unwelcome truth. The God of immeasurable love and mercy and acceptance is most often made real to us in our weakness and in our flaws and in the displeasure with our unpleasant self. In our imperfection, says Richard Rohr, “the cross of failure becomes the catapult toward transformation.”

I’m not sure this reflection will do much to cause you or me to walk into the risk of that which is ultimately the Good News, the Gospel, but that’s what we’re offered. –David Brock, Driven Into Lent 

Reflection: 

  • When has the God of immeasurable love, mercy, and acceptance been made real amid your weakness and flaws?
  • What would it mean in your life to accept your imperfections? How is the “cross of failure” inviting deeper transformation within you this season?
  • Prayerfully dwell with 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. What is God’s invitation to you in this text today?

STORIES WORTH LIVING

Lenten Practice: Lectio Divina
Daily Act: We find peace and hope in returning to ancient memory and story. Consider your family and faith heritage. Spend time in gratitude for those who have gone before you. Find time to share a memory of your heritage with someone, and listen to a memory of their heritage.
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“LIVING WORD, LIVE THROUGH ME.”

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

We are shaped by where we have been.

We are being called in unmooring times to return to the stories that have made us who we are. This is not to glorify the past, but to see how our lives take place in a broader context than just the complex urgencies of this moment. We are part of an expansive, unfolding story of humanity, of creation, of the cosmos, of the holy still creating in our lives and world.

Each of us is called to reclaim the ancient vocation of storyteller.
There are stories we need to remember, stories we need to hear, stories we are called to live, stories we are living now that will impact what is told beyond us.

What stories are shaping you?

In the desert times of life, I find a strange comfort in my wandering Israelite ancestors who wavered between resisting and rejoicing, hungering and hoping, for 40 years in the wilderness. The dream of milk and honey keeps us moving. Something is worth it just beyond the horizon. The way back is bondage. The way forward is freedom.

During Lent, I contemplate the meaning of the Christian story of death and resurrection as metaphor, as cycle. This pattern of renewal revealed throughout the earth, a daily occurrence. I am shaped by the perennial hope of life made new.

The story of my Community of Christ ancestors began with a God-seeking heart surrounded by creation’s beauty. There are days when I wonder if this is somehow an origin of the perpetual seeker within me, pursuing the divine presence in all things. I am not afraid to come before the holy with a question. Can you think of a more faithful way to approach the mystery?

In seventh grade, I witnessed my parents struggle over one of the biggest decisions of their lives- to leave a successful job and comfortable life and move us across the country in response to a sense of call. They would take long walks, prayerfully pondering. The radical choice they made was to leave the allure of financial stability to respond to God’s call, which felt more compelling than anything else. No one said the word “discernment” to me at the time, but this is where I learned it. As a seventh grader I could not comprehend the meaning of this move, but today I see how my own approach to decision-making always involves a preference for the holy.

Our heritage does not always positively impact us. Sometimes our ways of being are a rejection of what has occurred, a reclaiming or redefining of what feels distorted or unjust from the past. My feminism, for instance, is in response to a long, oppressive patriarchy still very much alive where I live and across the globe. The unfolding story I live is the laboring of justice in each generation to be born anew.

There is peace though, in our ancestor’s failings. In imperfection, whining, wandering, we are slowly learning about forgiveness and grace. Each faltering step embedded somewhere deep in our spiritual DNA- a lesson living in us, a hope for the future.

Tell me again of how my ancestors kept faith when it all felt impossible.

Tell me again of how the disciples walked for miles with Jesus and never knew he was beside them all along.

Tell me every story my heart yearns to hear so I can hold on to hope when it feels like all hope is lost.

What stories are shaping you? What stories are you called to tell? What stories are you called to live?