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.

The Advent Challenge

By Dustin Davis

“I personally think that honesty about ourselves and all of reality is the way that God made grace totally free and universally available.”
-Richard Rohr, Eager to Love, pg. 104

I recently visited with one of my friends who was nearing the end of her pregnancy. I hadn’t seen her at all since she became pregnant, and it was incredible to see her so close to giving birth. One of my many questions for her was about how it felt, how had the experience been for her. In a moment of honesty, she told me that it hadn’t been all that enjoyable. She described how she was just generally uncomfortable, couldn’t sleep well, and, so close to the end, just wanted to get to the next part. She also said that hearing stories of other women who loved being pregnant didn’t help. But there she was with a few weeks left to endure with nothing to do but continue to wait and prepare to receive her new child.

I have a deep appreciation and respect for my friend’s honesty, and, quite frankly, her humility. I wish I always had the same courage and candor to approach my own spiritual life and journey. The honest examination of her reality reminded me of the Richard Rohr quote above. It seems as if they are both saying the same thing; God uses our life circumstances, all the stuff of our lives, as a means for transformation if we’re able to humbly accept the reality of it.

The spiritual journey, like pregnancy, is easily romanticized. (Other examples that come to mind are vacation, “the holidays” and even Sunday morning church.) We like to fantasize about what it will be like or what it could be like to watch the sunrise every morning, to spend hours in silence, or to go visit a far off monastery or ashram. While lost in our daydreaming we tend to ignore the reality of life, which is usually quite different. Buying books about prayer replaces prayer. Empty journals pile up. Our busyness gets in the way of setting aside time for God. Pretty soon we’ve accepted books and empty journals for actual God experience.

This is especially dangerous when it comes to the bigger things in life like love, self-acceptance or self-image, and death. When a crisis arises or when our carefully crafted plans fall apart, as they invariably do in all our lives, we don’t know what to do or where to turn. When we are out of work we realize we can’t find the comfort we seek in our books. When a sudden death shakes our foundation we wonder where God is or if God was ever there. Both of these have been true in my life.

The reality is that there will never be a perfect moment to pray. That is the romanticized spiritual life. If I wait for when I have time, when I have nothing else to do, when I have perfect health, when my life is all good, when I have it all figured out, I will never ever pray or seek God. (On those rare occasions when everything is going well and I do have a free moment, the challenge becomes one of praise and gratitude to God instead of filling the moment with distractions or self-delusion.) Ironically, as it turns out, every moment is the perfect moment to pray!

The challenge of Advent is to seek God in the busyness, in the suffering, and in the ordinary. If we resist the urge to romanticize them, these realities remind us that we are not in control. These realities, honestly accepted, humble us and teach us that our constant Advent task is to continue to prepare to receive the gift that is now and always freely given.

Spiritual Practice: Prayer of Examen

Breathe deeply and become attentive to the presence of God with you now.
Recall all of the realities of the past day.
How has God been present to you in these realities?
When were you awake and responsive to the presence of God?
When were you distracted from or neglectful of this presence?
Pray for greater awareness of the Spirit’s presence in every dimension of life.
Offer thanks for the gift you prepare to receive, which is “now and always freely given.”
Amen.