Sacred Restraint

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

The season of Lent is almost upon us! February 10, 2016 is Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of this intentional journey toward reconciliation and wholeness with ourselves, others, God, and creation.

Often Lent is associated with fasting, giving up something of significance to be more prayerfully attentive to God. While at times this has been interpreted in superficial ways, the roots of this practice are ancient and deep. We are taken back to the 40 day desert fast of Christ, a time of preparation and purgation that ultimately led to an inner freedom to respond to the urgent needs of his context and time.

When I consider the urgent needs of my own context and time, I wonder if I might need more than 40 days in the desert to gather my courage for full response! One of the most present crises in some cultures, including my own, seems to be the too-muchness that claims our lives. We are wearing out our souls and wearing out the souls of those impacted by the cultures and systems that turn us into consumers instead of sisters and brothers in Christ. This includes the wearing out of the planet, which we are humbly remembering is not separate from our own daily survival.

The awful and wonderful message of the Lenten season for our time is a sacred sifting through of what really matters and the willingness to release what does not.

In a time of so many voices, so many opinions, so many options, so many products, so many things to do, what would it mean to say simply that we have and are enough? Perhaps sacred restraint is a spiritual practice we need to be restored to a rhythm of oneness, wholeness, and peace.

This Lent, you are invited to explore this resource (posted below), Sacred Restraint: A Spiritual Companion for the Lenten Desert, which is a reflection through poetry, prayer, and practices on the meaning of Christ’s desert temptation in our lives today. You may choose to do this by taking one day or weekend of spiritual retreat with this resource as a guide. You may bring a few friends along, or your whole congregation! You may choose to take this in pieces throughout the Lenten season, slowly returning to the practices and questions that feel most important for your own journey.

Additionally, you are invited to join us throughout this sacred season as we explore the meaning of Lent and offer spiritual practices on the blog. Many gifted writers have prepared words of wisdom and vulnerability as we explore together how Lent matters for us today.

Blessings as you prepare to enter the desert of Lent. Blessings as you find the courage to move toward wholeness. Blessings as you practice each sacred no to discover God’s sacred yes!

(These resources are offered freely, but you are welcome to make a donation for this Lenten guide and blog to Community of Christ: Thank you for your continued generosity supporting Spiritual Formation ministries!)

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Additional Lenten Resources can be found here:

The River

by Dustin Davis

One day I discover that deep inside my heart a river flows. So deep is this river that before I stumbled upon it – quite by accident mind you – I never knew it existed. Even as this river is new to me I can tell it is an ancient river, its banks carving out the landscape long before. What a delight to find such an unexpected surprise in what I thought was the well-mapped terrain of my heart!

Time and time again I return to the river. Its beauty is at times beyond comprehension or expression, and it seems enough to simply sit along the edge and take in the dazzling sight. So much of this river still remains a mystery. I don’t know its source or to where it stretches over the horizon. And what to name it? The River of Life, the Flow, the Living Water, the Force, the One…

I decide that I should build a place to live along the shore of this river, as majestic as it is. Who wouldn’t want to live amongst such scenery? Stone by stone I build my dwelling. It is hard work! When I grow tired from my labor I walk to the river to rest, to get a drink. How refreshing! Most times I return quickly to the task at hand, but sometimes I linger. “Drink of me and never thirst again,” the river quietly whispers, lapping at the shore.

My stone house grows very large. It has more rooms than I had originally planned. It appears impressive to some, though I never seem satisfied. Its walls are too high, and it’s hard to see the river outside because the windows are too small, too few. It does offer a certain level of shelter and comfort, but then what’s the point of living so near the river, I catch myself wondering.

There are times when I leave my house to marvel at the river. “Never thirst again,” it invites me. Drawn by its cool, healing waters, I actually wade into the river. It moves swiftly around me, the current gentle but strong. What a feeling to be part of the river, to be part of something more! I swim out from the shore and am caught in the current. I begin to flail and flounder. I can’t touch the riverbed below. Already I am swept down the river away from my house. I try desperately to swim upstream, fighting the current. In a matter of mere moments I am exhausted and gasping for breath. Finally, once I reach my familiar shore and my house, I pull myself from the river and collapse on the dry ground.

At night I sit and look at the river from inside my house. It sparkles in the moonlight, the stars reflecting on the smooth surface. It was exhilarating to be swept of my feet, but startling nonetheless. I have too many questions and not enough answers it seems. Should I risk going back in? I wonder. What if I am swept away for good? What if I end up so far down the river I can’t make it back? What will happen to my house that I’ve worked so hard to build? My lovely view of the river will be lost! Do the waters turn choppy? Are there rapids? A waterfall? I realize that I can’t control the river.

“Be still,” the water calls, and I go outside. Even though I can’t see where the river flows beyond the horizon I imagine it flowing where all rivers flow, to the ocean. My deepest longing is to float along the river, not fighting, not struggling, but riding the twists and the turns and the rapids. My deepest longing is to float in that Great Ocean at the end, held aloft by the buoyancy of the loving voice that assures me, “You are mine.”

I stick my feet back in the river.

Examen for Earth Justice

Examen For Earth Justice 

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.”
-Elizabeth Barret Browning

  1. Take a moment to pause in gratitude. Consider: What does your life depend on? What is the source of blessing in your life? Consider the ways that your life is inextricably connected to the earth. As you begin your time of prayer, pondering your inherent belonging to creation, be aware of each deep breath as sacred, symbol of this connection.
  2. Consider the ways that you live in separation from God, others, and creation. Pause in awareness for the times you seek your own well-being first and don’t consider the welfare of others. How do you participate in destructive attitudes, behaviors, and systems that diminish the worth of others and don’t honor the sacredness of creation?
  3. Reflect back on the previous day. Try to remember each detail, each hour. When did you act in dissonance with God’s vision for creation? When did you act in harmony with God’s vision for creation?
  4. Pray for forgiveness for the times you act as though you are separate from others and creation, for the moments you choose convenience over justice, personal well-being over compassion, busyness over presence, ignorance over awareness, apathy over action.
  5. Give thanks for God’s presence in and through creation. Contemplate the beauty of the earth around you. (If possible, go outside!) Breathe deeply and sense how you are a part of this. You belong simply by being alive. How does God invite you to live this belonging? Discover peace and renewal in the natural rhythms of the earth that surrounds you. Dwell in God’s presence.
  6. Consider how you will live in the days ahead. Pray that you will live from a space of deeper connectivity and compassion with God, others, and creation. Pray that you may become more aware, in all the details of your life, of how God’s shalom yearns to come to expression through you for the sake of the world.

written by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin