FAITHFUL UNCERTAINTY

Lenten Practice: Silence
Daily Act: Find a quiet space and allow yourself at least five minutes alone in silence (preferably more). Breathe deeply, paying attention to how your breath feels as it enters your body and as it leaves. Allow your breath to silence your restlessness, activity, and inner noise. Continue to listen to your breath in silence.
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

It is a long way, these 40 days, and this is where they lead.

It is a mystery so profound that we could live through Lent for another hundred years and still only hold the edges of understanding. We are on the threshold of holy week teetering on the cusp of the call.

Having been here before, we are tempted to believe we already have it figured out. Maybe the invitation is to suspend for a while what we think we know. Maybe we are invited to enter Holy Week with an open, curious, surprisingly willing heart. What is this way of suffering love?

The spiritual tradition has not shied away from the topic of suffering, which may be why many shy away from the spiritual life. From Jesus to St. John of the Cross, we discover this strange mystery that what we most love and most resist are sometimes the very same thing.

This is such a dangerous topic because there are several things suffering is not in the spiritual life.

1. It is not ever a reason to inflict suffering on someone else or to support a system of domination and oppression.
2. The line can sometimes be thin between self-emptying and self-diminishment. Spiritual maturity and constant discernment are required to live the sacrificial way. This is why asceticism has been at times so radically misunderstood.
3. It is not appropriate to say to a person who is in the midst of real physical or emotional suffering that God desires for them to be there. The way of suffering love is chosen, not demanded or manipulated.
4. It is never to be used to diminish the realities of suffering in the world around us. If anything, it enhances our empathetic response.

The latin phrase, via negativa, literally means “negative way” but in the Christian spiritual tradition, it describes the self-emptying required to draw closer in union with God and others. It is a process of detachment from “the specific and knowable” (Ursula King, Christian Mystics) in order to enter into the darkness, or mystery, of God. While we are conditioned to think that darkness is a bad thing, in this case it is more about an incomprehensible fullness. St. John of the Cross describes this darkness as the light of God, which is so bright that it is blinding. The soul, thinking it is abandoned in this blindness is actually closer to God than it has ever been, consumed in what is most real.

This part of our Christian story exemplifies the via negativa. The prayerful agony of Gethsemane and the journey to the cross represent how paradoxically suffering can reveal the fullness of God’s presence even in what feels like God’s absence. We discover again the meeting place between what we resist and what we love.

“Now is the hour of the garden and the night, the hour of the silent offering: therefore the hour of hope: God alone. Faceless, unknown, unfelt, yet undeniably God.” Abbé Monchanin, The Desert: An Anthology For Lent

I will not pretend to understand the full meaning of this week, or even of these forty days leading to this weighted time. I am hesitant about versions of Christianity that have boxed up the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection to pass out to others as a simple salvation formula.

It feels like what is required in this Holy Week time is not a dogged certainty, but a faithful uncertainty. It is an emptying, an unknowing, a dying that leads strangely to new life.

“Simply waiting for God in silence IS prayer.” Ladislaus Boros, The Desert: An Anthology for Lent

SILENT BEFORE THE MYSTERY

Lenten Practice: Silence
Daily Act: Practice Silence.
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.”

From the Community of Christ Guide for Lent: 

Practicing silence reminds us that relationship with God is a mutual, reciprocal act. In silence, we take the time to listen intently and be present with God without words. Often, our most profound spiritual experiences cannot be fully described. We know that in times of distress (Romans 8) the Spirit prays for us hearing the groans of our hearts that are too deep for words.

Intentional time in silence allows us to be fully present with God without the confines of language. As we enter Holy Week, the full implication of life as a disciple brings with it a weighted hush. There are moments when words are inadequate and our most faithful response is to stand humbly before the mystery.

Practicing silence may be difficult at first. The mind may run wild, and centering in God’s presence could take some spiritual effort! Allow yourself grace in this practice and the ability to slowly ease into longer periods of silent reflection.

Perhaps you begin in silence for 5–10 minutes and then write in a journal or pray about your experience. Breathe deeply. Focusing on each breath in and out can help quiet the mind and center you in God’s Spirit.

Become aware of your surroundings; notice how the air feels on your skin; trust that you are in the presence of the holy—fully surrounding and embracing you. Don’t expect that God will speak to you in a certain way. Just open yourself to what is.

Allow your inner conversations to stop for a while, being fully present with the one who is fully present with you.

After being silent for a while, offer a prayer of gratitude for God’s constant presence whether you are fully aware of it or not. Pray that you may continue to draw closer to God and discover what God is saying and doing within you.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 

Romans 8:26, NRSV

INNER TERRAIN

Lenten Practice: Holy Attention
Daily Act: Spend at least 10 minutes outside just noticing creation. What do you see that you normally don’t notice or take the time to appreciate?
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.”

Today’s blog is a poem by Zac Harmon-McLaughlin, a Missionary Coordinator for Community of Christ (EGLMC). As you dwell in holy attention today, what is revealed to you through creation? How do the natural processes of the earth slow your own pace and humble you into awareness of the holy? How does the outer terrain impact your inner terrain?

“The wide-open vistas that sustain our souls, the depth of silence that pushes us toward sanity, return us to a kind of equilibrium. We stand steady on Earth. The external space I see is the internal space I feel.” Terry Tempest Williams (p.158, Red: Passion and Patience In The Desert)

My Inner Terrain
by Zac Harmon-McLaughlin

If God is a mountain,
Would that make me a rock on God’s cliffed edge?

If God is the desert,
Would I then be a grain of sand on God’s cathedral floor?

If God is the thick and mighty forest,
Would I be a perfected leaf on God’s outreached branch?

If God is the ocean,
Would I find myself as a piece of seaweed dancing to God’s purposeful rhythm?

If God is the beautiful island,
Would I be part of the vibrant greenery that makes God lush and peaceful?

If God is the field,
Would I sit in with the congregation of soil making life possible?

Regardless of this inner terrain,
I rest in the peace that I am part of God.