Daily Lenten Reflection

“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. –1 Kings 19:11-13, NRSV

Nighttime in the desert is as still and quiet as you could ever hope to find, a silence broken only by human activity. The usual night sounds one experiences outdoors – the rustle of wind in tree branches, the rushing sound of water tumbling over the boulders of a mountain stream, the stealthy movements of night-loving animals – are virtually absent. The nature of life in the deep desert is different, much more subdued, a signal of the lack of something, the apparent absence of that which sustains life: water. –Laurie Gordon, The God of Barren Landscapes

Reflection: 

  • How does a different landscape awaken you to the absence of what is normally present? What is absent in your interior landscape this Lent?
  • Pay attention to what you would normally see, experience, and hear in your daily life. What would you notice lacking if, for a time, you entered a space as “still and quiet as you could ever hope to find?”
  • Prayerfully dwell with 1 Kings 19:11-13. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?

I Cannot Go to Bethlehem

By Susan Oxley

I cannot go to Bethlehem.
Life moves too quickly.
The press of people blocks my way.
In the noise and confusion, the clutching of hands, I feel no angel wings.
You who are caught in the maddening whirl of activity, trapped in a crowded inn,
Peace. Be still. God comes to you quietly, in a stable, singing in you his new song.
Let your heart be a listening hillside, and the brush of angel wings will follow.

I cannot go to Bethlehem.
There’s too much sorrow and despair.
Grown people turn away, unfeeling, uncaring. Death reigns supreme.
How can I believe in a Baby? I hear no announcement of good news.
You who brood in sadness, by the echoing chasm of grief,
Remember the one who comes and abides. God With Us, Emmanuel.
Touch Him in your winter loneliness, hear him as a shout against despair,
Until, transformed by grace, your griefs become your joy.

I cannot go to Bethlehem.
Doubts and questions bar my way.
Fear whispers from all sides.
Journeys require faith—don’t ask me to go. I hear no songs of faith.
You who search and doubt and journey,
The Word has been shaped by love, spoken in fire, captured in flesh.
Traveler, have faith in beginnings and believe in preparation beyond knowing.
Kneel in the whispers of the mind, in the doubts of the night, and hear faith being born.

I cannot go to Bethlehem.
Inside, there is darkness, cold silence, empty echoes.
The voice I hear is only your darkness speaking to my darkness.
Without light, I can’t find the way. I see no stars to guide me in the night.
You who live in darkness, prisoner of the winter that knows no spring,
The people of echoes and silence have seen a great light!
Believe in a brightness that is beyond you, surrounding, invading, within you.
This Advent, let us all go to Bethlehem, and find our kneeling places.

Spiritual Practice: Spend a few moments in silence, breathing deep and listening within. Where do you find yourself reluctant? Where do you find yourself hopeful? What are the strongest movements within you at the beginning of this Advent Journey? What is the state of your heart as you make this journey?

Click the image above for a free Advent Spiritual Retreat resource.
Click the image above for a free Advent Spiritual Retreat resource.

HOLY IN-BETWEEN

Lenten Practice: Silence
Daily Act: “Entering the silence” is based on a practice of the Seneca (First People) Nation. The imagery is adapted from the words of Twylah Nitsch:

Close your eyes. Breathe out three times.
Listen and hear the Silence…Listen and see the Silence.
Listen and taste the Silence…Listen and smell the Silence.
Breathe out one time. Listen and embrace the Silence.
When you are finished, open your eyes.

Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“HOLY MYSTERY, I AM SPEECHLESS IN YOUR PRESENCE.”

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

This is the in-between time- when no promise of resurrection can ease the grief and fear rising as swells within the soul. This is the time for feeling, really feeling, the disbelief, the anguish, as you walk away from the tomb where all your hope has been laid. This is the time for keeping vigil, for waiting… for what?

This is the time between death and resurrection where some hallowed space in us is opening a way for something new that we cannot yet see or even imagine.

Joan Chittister suggests that this in-between time is exactly where we are called to be, and that it is also holy.

“The spirituality of religious life today is neither the spirituality of the cross nor the spirituality of the resurrection. The spirituality of our time is the spirituality of Holy Saturday: a spirituality of confusion and consternation, of ineffectiveness and powerlessness, of faith in darkness and the power of hope. It is a spirituality that carries on when carrying on seems most futile.” P.41, The Fire In These Ashes

These may be the moments when we experience most profoundly the counter-cultural nature of discipleship, the ineffective way of love that is transforming our lives with this perplexing downward motion. God-with-us crucified.

I cannot even begin to imagine the heart-wrenching agony of the disciples who had literally left everything to follow the One they just watched die a violent and infuriatingly unjust death. I don’t want to speculate on the details of the mystery that occurred between losing hope and finding it again- but it feels like this holy day has something to say to us now about the power of life in God’s spirit that continues even when we feel like everything is ending.

Sister Chittister challenges us to discover the full meaning of this time: “This isn’t a time for quitting simply because the past is past and the present is unclear. This is not a time for not beginning just because the journey is uncharted. In fact, what an older generation promised a lifetime ago may only now be beginning to come to pass, to make its demands, to reveal its meaning.” P.41, The Fire In These Ashes

What if what we try so hard to avoid and escape actually contains the future we have been longing for? What if in this ending is a new beginning already unfolding within us, around us? What if the point of the past was to prepare us for this time, not to cling to what was and make an idol of it? What if we are invited to be fully present in this in-between space so that our hearts will be ready to live with Christ the resurrection life?

On Holy Saturday, we are confronted with the depth of our commitment to Christ even when what feels good and familiar about the life of faith appears to be gone. “The question, of course, is for what did we hope when we committed ourselves to such a way as this? For certainty? For approval? For clarity? Surely the answer is far deeper than that.” Joan Chittister, P.178, The Fire In These Ashes

It is this deeper answer in each of us that sustains in the dark, uncertain moments of our faith. The Lenten wilderness has been preparing us for this day. We have been slowly releasing our attachments to success, security, and power for the downward love way to wind into our hearts resurrection potential.

This is the time between death and resurrection where some hallowed space in us is opening a way for something new that we cannot yet see or even imagine.

Keep vigil. Be expectant. Mourn if you must. Unlock these fear doors in the heart.

In the darkness of the tomb is mystery, a continuing.

This in-between space is also holy.