Lenten Formation: Daily Reflection 1

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
Isaiah 58:6-9, NRSV

If giving something up, or adding something to, our daily living is good for Lent; shouldn’t we be doing it all the time? I have wrestled with these questions. I’ve had the cynical attitude; but I have discovered rich layers of meaning and formation through Lenten encounter. Each experience of Lent leads me more deeply into the next. It is not simply the “giving up” or “adding to” that makes Lent meaningful. In fact, we must be careful not to let fasting and almsgiving reflect self-righteousness or self-centered privilege. –Janné Grover, Lenten Formation

Reflect: 

  • If you have chosen to fast for Lent, spend some time prayerfully considering your fast so far. What are your intentions for fasting? What are you noticing as you engage in this ancient spiritual practice?
  • Spend a few moments considering your social, economic, and religious “location” in the world. When is your expression of faith from this location potentially self-righteous or a reflection of privilege? What does it mean in your life to carefully discern faithful response?
  • How are you invited into the deeper layers of meaning and formation during the Lenten season? Prayerfully read the text above from Isaiah 58:6-9. What is God’s invitation for you in this text?

Week 4: Trusting the Promise

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

“For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” Habakkuk 2:2-3, NRSV

This is the time for realizing
That this deep hope is
For something real.

Impossible
Say the voices around us
Firmly fixed in cynicism, despair.

Impossible
Says the evening news
With its montage of tragedy.

Impossible
Say the politicians
Inciting suspicion, fear.

Impossible
Says the hurting heart
Daring to dream no more.

Impossible
Says the “rational” mind
Trading wonder for logic.

Impossible
Say the statistics
And the violence
And the hatred
And planetary ruin
And hungry bodies
And broken lives…
And…

Yet…

A bright star emerges
In our longest, darkest night
And those wisest among us
Choose to chase it.

What they hear it saying
Through the shining
Is worth the vision
They journey to find.

POSSIBLE
It says of:
Equality
Justice
Kindness
Forgiveness
Redemption

POSSIBLE
It says of:
An end to poverty
A nonviolent way
Radical compassion
Peace on earth
The kingdom of God

POSSIBLE
It says of:
A table of welcome
With a feast spread wide
For all people–
Even those we fear
Even those who fear us–
To come and be nourished
And reconciled
And healed
And blessed.

POSSIBLE
It says of:
Our deepest need
The deepest dream
Of the Holy
Birthed in us
Through us
With us
For us.

This is the time for realizing
That this deep hope is
For something real.

Spiritual Practice: What possibility are you invited to follow this Advent season? What does it mean to trust the promise of the incarnation in the world today?

The Love Response

by Dustin Davis (Spiritual Formation Team)

Last week we learned of another mass shooting in the United States, a term so
commonplace now that it even has a definition: four or more people killed by gun
violence in a single incident. This one occurred at Umpqua Community College in
Oregon.

What has followed since then has been the now routine response from news outlets,
politicians, advocates on both sides of the gun control debate, and from citizens. And it
seems that apathy is becoming our “new normal” in the face of what was once shocking
and impossible violence. A friend I follow on Twitter posted, “The scariest thing about
today’s mass shooting is not the shooting itself, buy my apathetic response to things like
this now.” I saw many other comments in the same vein.

My favorite call-in show on my local radio station asked last Friday how listeners cope
with such tragedy when it occurs in our country. Caller after caller after caller shared
how they feel hopeless, how they have no faith in our politicians and leaders to pass
legislation and how even if they did they are not sure it would help. Even though it is
safe to assume that no one wants to see such violence continue, it feels as if many are
beginning to check out of the conversation because their hearts are too heavy, have
been broken too many times.

I can relate. Whenever I hear of such news, in the past I have taken a moment to
pause and whisper to myself, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
But even now that seems childish and somewhat trite. It seems that sending my
prayers and good thoughts is no longer enough.

As I was meditating on this feeling of general hopelessness and my own growing sense
of despair, I remembered a quote from Mother Teresa that is painted on the wall in my
congregation’s fellowship hall.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

I have always thought this quote simply sounded nice, another pearl in a long wisdom
necklace. Now, however, it seems to sit in my heart with a very real weight, and
although some might think it naive or dismiss it as wishful thinking, I feel that these
words are our best guide toward a more peaceful future.

This quote, you see, is more than just nice words. It tells us what to do. It is actionable.
It provides a way forward along a dark path where debate and government have failed.
It reminds us of what is most essential. We must remember that we belong to each
other. It asks what our response will be in light of needless violence: hopelessness or
love?

Hopelessness has a firm grasp on us at times, so, for argument’s sake, let’s image what
a love response would look like. For me, I have promised to reach out to my family and
friends the next time I hear about a violent tragedy. I will remind my family that I love
them, and I will send a message to a few friends, perhaps those I have not talked to in a
while, to remind them that I am grateful they are part of my life. In this small way I hope
to remind them of their infinite worth and that they belong to someone. What does a love
response look like for you?

Shootings like the one that just happened in Oregon are a failure on many levels. Some
say it is a political failure. Others say it is a healthcare failure or a security failure. In
some way, all of these are true. I want to add that it is also a failure of individualism.
Somewhere along the way those who plan and carry out mass shootings, or any violent
act for that matter, have forgotten, or never knew, that they belong to others. I cannot
help but wonder if the Oregon shooter remembered that he was a son, maybe a cousin
or nephew, a colleague or a friend. Did he know he was a member of a community?
Did he know he was a child of God?

I will risk being called naive to choose the love response, not just because love feels
better than hopelessness or because I can act on love and not on hopelessness, but
because it is what I, we, are called to do.