FOR HOPE

Lenten Practice: Holy Attention
Daily Act: Pray the mission prayer and be open throughout your day. “God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me the courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.”
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“AWAKEN ME TO YOUR PRESENCE IN AND THROUGH ALL CREATION.”

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

We are in the heart of Lent.
We have been clearing an inward space for days, weeks.
With reluctance we have laid down slowly
The need to be in control.
We have been seeking spiritual freedom
From the chains of complacency that bind us.

Slowly, we have been clearing out.
Still we are clearing-
A process.
The more we face
The more we find.

The space-making is not
For new obsessions with what is found.
It is not for tearing ourselves down
Or becoming self-absorbed in another way.
It is not for getting lost in lament
Or throwing up our arms in hopeless abandon
At our flawed human condition.

It is for seeing.
It is for making ready.
It is for holy expectation.
It is for hope.

It is for loosening the grip of distraction
To focus our hearts on what they
Yearn for anyway-
The abundance of God’s presence
Active and moving and living
In the world around us.

It is for releasing the illusion of safety
To risk on the God beyond our knowing
So we can risk on others
Who we are called to know.

It is for awakening
From the rituals
That can numb us-
That tempt us with thinking
The routine is the relationship
While our hungering hearts
Crave what is real.

It is for casting aside all fear
And doubt
And disbelief
And apathy
And anything
That would say to us
Nothing is working

And to see again
How the Spirit
Has never stopped
Moving
Speaking
Breathing
Everywhere
Always
Within and
Around us.

Keep clearing out.
Keep making this space.
Dare to let go of whatever stifles
God’s fullest life in us.

It is for seeing.
It is for making ready.
It is for holy expectation.
It is for hope.

God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me the courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.

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?

With What Are You In Labor? Meditations on Scripture

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

I pour my Sumatran coffee into a favorite mug and take a sip. It warms and awakens me. I take a deep breath. Just a moment of stillness and I can sense that I am in the presence of God.

I open my scriptures and turn to Isaiah 45:7-13, a text I received to dwell in from my Spiritual Director. Engaging practices repetitively helps me enter more deeply into them each time. Sometimes I resist this discipline, but it bears fruit in times of great challenge and in times of great joy.

My spiritual director has guided me to pay attention to how I feel as I read to allow the text to search me for meaning. This is hard because I tend to be analytical. In Ignatian Spirituality, I am learning to pay attention to the affect. The affect is a response of the heart. Though it may lead to greater intellectual understanding that is not the primary goal. It is, as Theophan the Recluse describes, “to descend with the mind into the heart”.

I begin to dwell in the word:

Isaiah 45:1-13, NRSV

“Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles?’ Woe to anyone who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’ Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands? … I will make all his paths straight; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward.”

I spend a moment letting the words sink into me, noticing where I am drawn to dwell, noticing how I feel as I read them.

Then I read again.

I consider the words, images, or phrases that captured my attention. I am especially drawn to these two phrases:

“With what are you in labor?”

“…not for price or reward.”

Then I consider the question, what is God’s invitation to you in this text today?

I notice immediately my analytical nature threatening to delve into dissection mode. I acknowledge this and plunge deeper. I ask again:

What is the invitation for me in this text?

I notice how I feel about a text that blatantly confronts my tendencies toward control. I consider how these tendencies play out in my ministry… and the ways I seek to live mission.

God’s invitation leads me into a time of prayer:

God, I am still learning how to trust you fully—how to release my own agenda and control tendencies to create the space for your Spirit to freely form. So much happens beyond what is visible. I am drawn to the darkness, like that of the womb, where nothing of my own effort can contribute to the forming of a life I cannot see.

I tremble in uncertainty. I do want to command the work of your hands. I want to take over sometimes, or often.

But then you surprise me with new life in the emptiest and most unexpected of places. I shouldn’t still be surprised, but I always am.

We are slow learners, as your work can feel slow. Maybe because we too are still being formed, still being shaped by your hands. I need to remember: it is not about me and what I can do. We build your city without thought of price or reward. It is not about achievement or success. It is divine vocation.

For the times I don’t understand,

For the times I think I know best and try to make it on my own,

For the times I fail to see holy potential,

Forgive me, O God.

May I grow deeper in awareness and trust of your Spirit and what is possible beyond what I can see or imagine now. Amen.

I put down the pen and paper. I get up and move into the opening day. I feel more awake to God’s presence around me. I know that starting my day this way will not only give me peace, but will keep me open to where the Spirit may lead.

I offer these words, said so often before, that now have enhanced meaning:

God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help be fully awake and ready to respond! Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.