Daily Lenten Reflection

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. –Luke 9:22-24, NRSV

Who would willingly come to this threshold? With all society’s promises of happiness and fulfillment beckoning at every bend, who would choose to enter this week of suffering? Who would sit at the table of bread being broken, feeling the horrible tension of a body almost broken too? Who would be a witness at the cross of injustice, suffering, and grief? Who would go to the tomb to revisit the despair and dread, to face what can happen even to you who dare to challenge the systems of power? –Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Holy Week: To Enter the Suffering 

 

Reflect: 

  • How do you come to the threshold of Holy Week?
  • Consider the Lenten journey that has led you here. What has been preparing you for this Holy Week time of faith?
  • Prayerfully dwell with Luke 9:22-24. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?

Sustaining the Gaze

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

I open the curtains revealing a sliver of moon and two stars in a brightening blue sea of morning sky. It awakens delight. I linger in a moment of sustained gaze until I feel the nudge of tasks pressing in the unfolding day. There are many distractions available to me at all times. Even in the face of stunning beauty I feel an itch of impatience.

The disciplines of patience and presence need to develop in me. What would it be like to sit with a landscape until I am no longer entertained by it, to let myself belong there, to allow two stars and a barely visible sliver of light speak deep into my soul about our shared identity as universe?

What if I stayed long enough to see this golden hue creeping up behind barren wintry trees, day greeting night and a turning happening that I can see and that I can’t– the wonder of living on a planet and the miracle of those perfect conditions that daily sustain all life?

And what does the constant need to be entertained say about the state of my soul? What does it say about a lack of respect for my inherent interdependence with the very things I reduce to offerings of fleeting pleasure? We consumers try to consume the whole cosmos. It feels like a hollow endeavor.

I can waste an hour on social media busying my mind, the satisfaction of a continual array of new images for this over-stimulation addiction, but I can hardly stand 10 minutes of gazing in wonder at the colors of dawn. What great spiritual deficit is this causing in me, in my culture? Always on the surface of everything at once, will we one day forget how to be with the “one thing needful” which draws us deeper, deeper, deeper? (Luke 10:42)

Will we forget how to make space to hear the One Voice through the many multiplying voices always around us?

These desert-waiting-preparing places in the spiritual tradition are not for rigid self-denial but holy fulfillment, which comes through emptying and entering those darkened doorways of the soul to discover the living love residing within, awakening us to the living love residing in all! And this experience cannot be bought. It does not promise to entertain. It is radical amazement beyond the realm of image or word at all. It is the speechless awe that must have filled the shepherds on the night of the birth of Christ when their ordinary landscape was suddenly ablaze with divine proclamation.

I wonder if they sustained the gaze, or if they worried about the sheep, or if they eventually turned away because “humankind cannot bear very much reality” (T.S. Elliot, Four Quartets).

“God gently lures us into intimacy,” writes Norvene Vest, “and unexpectedly explodes us into mystery. Such encounters with mystery are simply too much for most of us until our capacity expands and our tolerance increases.” (Spiritual Direction: Beyond the Beginnings)

What if I dared to stay in the impatience-itch, to stay with the holy-ache from too much mystery or beauty all at once?

What if I resisted the addiction to move to the next thing, and the next,
and simply remained present long enough
to hear the voice of the Holy around me,
to feel the movement of the Holy within me?

What if Advent is about increasing our tolerance for divine mystery, expanding our capacity to bear it?

So that in it’s arrival
We are ready,
Present enough,
To receive it
To live it
To let it amaze us
And sustain the gaze…

So that we no longer observe
But belong
With the new-day stars
And sliver of moonlight
And the whole Holy landscape
Of everything coming to birth.

Spiritual Practice: Whether in holy attention, or prayer, or conversation stay present just a little longer than you normally would. Allow yourself to dwell deeply in one place for a while. What does it look like in your soul to increase your tolerance for receiving the Holy?

A Sacred Yes: The Desire of the Heart

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

What if this sacred yes you’ve dared to say is forming within you the deepest joy you’ve yearned to feel? What if it matters? What if it is about fullest life? What if it is the meaning you’ve been chasing, the vision you’ve been straining to see? What if you’ve said yes to what is most real, most alive, most true in your own soul?

Slowly, slowly, slowly I am learning that divine vocation is to discover and live the truest version of myself. God calls us all to be who we really are. This can be difficult to understand in a culture saturated with individualism. This is an invitation to the core of the soul, to the substance we seek. When we get to the center of our deepest being we discover the home of the Holy, which has been resident all along.

It is here in this sacred center that we recover the spark for life that can grow dim from all the insecurities and expectations we’ve layered upon it. The Advent journey toward the great light might be an interior one. In darkest times, this flame will not die. The world is aching for more souls to catch fire.

Especially at Christmas, I can quickly spout off a list of surface level wants. The advertisements sneaking their way into every part of life offer suggestions too. More layers on the divine flame within, distractions from the deepest desire seeking to claim me.

When we give ourselves over to the call of the Holy forming unseen within, we can trust that it is what we want, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first. This isn’t divine manipulation. God never calls us to be who we aren’t. What we carry within us is not another obligation waiting to consume more of our energy and time. The call of God is fullest life, always, even in death. It may take time, and courage, to let the layers of shallow desires fall away to discover the One thing for which we truly yearn. “The soul,” writes Mark Thibodeaux, “is the place where God’s desires and my desires intersect.” What is deepest in us is not in conflict with the dream of God for the world.

In moments, the reign of God couldn’t seem further away. It is clear, just from watching the evening news, that there is much to be done. How do you explain that even in the midst of devastation, the deepest call of the Holy in our lives springs forth from what brings us true joy? Frederick Buechner says it well, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I have a hard time naming this deep desire, this deep gladness. It feels selfish at first, which may be an indication that I haven’t properly named it yet. I have to remind myself that this is more than something I want on a whim. It is the steadying orientation of my heart in God. What I also uncover slowly, slowly, slowly is that the heart of God within me is also the heart of all life. My welfare resides in the welfare of all. This is another sure way to determine the authenticity of the desire you seek. Does it bring you joy? Does it confront what is false in you? Does it lead toward the welfare of all?

This Advent, how does your sacred yes lead to fullest life? How is God inviting you to offer yourself from a place of deep joy rather than obligation?

What is it, really, that you hope for? Repeat this question in your soul more than once.

How does this deepest desire within you make brighter a darkened world?