Lenten Wrestling

Lenten Practice: Examen
Daily Act: Take inventory of your life. Use this day to pause and write down what you do daily or weekly. What is it that is most life giving in your regular schedule? Is God calling your to imagine new priorities or a different pace?
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“SEARCH MY HEART AND MAKE IT ONE WITH YOURS.”

Today’s post is written by Janné Grover, Disciple Formation Ministries Specialist for Community of Christ, and it takes us back to the foundational Lenten practice of Fasting. As you read this reflection, consider your own practice with fasting so far. As we move into the third week of Lent, what holy wrestling has occurred? What new insight has been gained?

Lenten Wrestling
By Janné Grover

Lent is one of my favorite times of year. I have grown to welcome the intentionality of prayer and fasting, the change in daily rhythm, the heightened awareness of others and the world around me, and…the wrestling. While the latter is not my favorite part of Lent, it is a process I have grown to appreciate. Let me explain.

This year, in addition to engaging regularly in Lenten practices (you may find these at www.cofchrist.org/a-guide-for-lent), I am fasting from listening to the radio while driving. I realize this is not much of a personal sacrifice, but it removes a bit of noise and clutter from my daily routine and allows me at least 40 additional minutes each day for focused thought and prayer. Yes, this is something I can do all the time, but it is a practice during Lent, which helps me focus more intentionally on what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. While most days this is a peaceful and predictable practice, I have been surprised by some challenges, which have emerged during this practice.

There is a hymn in Community of Christ Sings with an opening line that reads, “We are the ones the world awaits to live the words we pray” (305). I am confronted by the text of this hymn to consider what it means to pray for the well being of another, for an end to hunger, for peace in the world, or for clarity of thought regarding an important decision. I have wrestled with what God expects of me, and to what I am called to give my attention and energy. Sometimes I feel like Jacob coming out of his tent after wrestling with God. If I pray for something, am I supposed to be part of the answer? That’s a lot to ask, isn’t it? It almost makes me feel too overwhelmed to bother praying about anything! What does God really expect of me…one person with too much on my plate already?

And after the spiritual wrestling match is over, I begin to understand with a bit more clarity.

Praying for the well being of another doesn’t mean I can change the person’s circumstance, but it keeps me present with them in that circumstance. It reminds me of what it means to be companions on a journey. Praying for an end to world hunger doesn’t mean I have to solve the world’s systemic issues surrounding poverty and hunger, but it reminds me a solution will not miraculously happen without a willingness to examine the impact of my own choices and generosity. Praying for peace doesn’t make peace happen, but it keeps me focused on living as a presence of peace and engaged in acts of social justice, which can create pathways toward peace for others. Praying for clarity of thought reminds me to silence my inner conversation and just listen.

In and through the spiritual wrestling I am reminded that prayer changes me as much as it changes a condition for which I pray. It keeps me connected to others, to all creation, and to God. It is humbling to accept that I do not need to know or be the answer to my prayers… but if I journey in an awakened way, I am open to that possibility.

“We are the ones the world awaits to live the words we pray.”

-Edith Sinclair Downing , Community of Christ Sings #305

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.

“SEARCH MY HEART AND MAKE IT ONE WITH YOURS.”

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?

God In All Things: Examen

Lenten Practice: Examen
Daily Act: Engage in the practice of Examen. Use the prayer phrase as a way to enter a time of prayer.
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“SEARCH MY HEART AND MAKE IT ONE WITH YOURS.” 

Below is the description of the Examen found in the Community of Christ Guide for Lent. There is no specific formula or method that needs to be used. The important thing with this practice is to place your whole life before God in prayer. Nothing is too mundane or insignificant! Search for God’s presence and invitation in every part of your life. The examen reflects what its founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, proclaimed: That God is in all things!

The prayer of examen is a daily spiritual practice that encourages us to review the day with God, remember our connection with the Holy, and recommit ourselves to encounter the Divine once again. Many Christians have used this practice since the 1500s, and while it is often practiced at the end of a day, it may be done any time. The examen can be used during Lent as we seek to realign our lives with the life of Christ.

The Practice: Find a comfortable and quiet place in which you are able to reflect on your day. Read scripture passages, such as Psalm 139:1–3, 7 or Psalm 51:10–12, 15–17. You may want to write your thoughts on these passages in a journal, or during the examen, write as you notice the Spirit stirring within you.

Begin by recognizing God’s presence and give thanks for this awareness. Gently enter seeking the Spirit’s guidance. Express gratitude as you recognize the many and diverse ways you have sensed God’s presence throughout the day. You may want to record your thanks in writing.

Look back over your day objectively, without judgment or justification. Notice when you recognized God’s presence and where you were most Christ-like. When did you
cooperate with God’s Spirit of healing and shalom? Also notice where you were not as cooperative, and perhaps even resistant to the invitation to linger and follow.

Pay attention to your feelings as you review and reflect, and notice patterns and choices. Are you being invited to release certain attitudes or behaviors and embrace others? Ask the Holy Spirit for insight, and pray for forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, or release as needed.

Offer God the next day, asking God to be present in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Ask yourself, “Beginning tomorrow (or today), how will I live my life differently?” Close your practice with a brief benediction. Receive God’s grace and rest.