Lent: An Invitation to Simplicity and Resistance

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

In the madness of keeping up, a gentler invitation has entered our hearts, revealing the depth of our attachments to status and things. It whispers, “less, less, less”—echoing in the cavernous soul, trembling the foundations of this life we’ve made thus far.

What is small and quiet can become most mighty. Such is the way of Christ. Just one thought planted, proposing an alternative way, screeches to a halt the illusions of success, casting light on the hidden motivations for our money and time. We gasp at how subtle and impactful the neglect of our deepest values can be. We barely remember how, along the way, we traded in these values for a dream that was never truly ours.

What do we really need? What does matter most? Sacred conversations with courageous souls, unwilling to live in the wearying status quo, spark conviction in us anew. We, too, can choose a simpler way—discerning for ourselves what is necessary and what is abundance. Liberation from materialism beckons, release from the incessant cultural chant of “more, more, more.” Sometimes we share stories to share courage. I am grateful for the handfuls of fresh courage we have received.

This Lent, we have asked writers to share their stories of sacred resistance after the model of Jesus in the desert in the Daily Bread Blog (You can subscribe here: http://www.cofchrist.org/blog/daily-bread#!/). They are stories of release and awareness, of growing honesty and hopeful transformation. We invite you to journey this Lenten way with us, finding new courage and conviction in stories shared. How is the Spirit inviting you to resist and release in the desert this Lent?

(Read today’s story, a reflection on Ash Wednesday: http://www.cofchrist.org/daily-bread#!/2262/breathing-life-into-the-dust)

As we receive these stories and consider the intersections with our own, you are also invited into a practice of Spiritual Freedom (click here to access the practice), which is about becoming radically available to God as we discover and release distractions and attachments.

Additional Lenten Resources, including a retreat companion on Sacred Restraint, can be found here: https://spiritualformationcenter.org/news-and-events/lent-2017/

However you practice Lent this year, may it be a time of transformation and renewal for ourselves, our communities, and the world. Blessings of courage as you resist and release along the Lenten way!

Lenten Resource for Individual and Small Group Reflection: screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-5-44-58-pm

Freed to Say Yes

by Dustin Davis, Spiritual Formation Team

When it comes to church life, I have a hard time saying no. If someone is needed to teach a class, cook for the congregation, or fill an open preaching slot, I can usually be counted on to step up to the plate. When it comes to the spiritual life, I have a hard time saying yes. If God is urging me to take the next step on my journey, detach from my ego to honestly but lovingly look at my motivations and judgements, or simply notice God’s presence all around, I will usually sweep it under the rug. (Why doesn’t God just ask me to plan worship instead?) This is why I find Mary so inspiring.

In the birth narrative in Luke, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells her that she will give birth to a son who will be the Son of God. (Talk about disruptive!) How, Mary wonders, can this be? The angel assures her, “Do not be afraid… for nothing will be impossible with God,” By the end of their encounter Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” (Luke 1:26-38). Can you imagine not only saying yes to such a request, but saying it so freely and completely? I can only guess that Mary was responding from the deep well within that springs forth as a result of a rich and connected spiritual life.

St. Francis of Assisi once wrote in Letter to All the Faithful, “We are mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ when we carry him in our hearts and in our bodies, lovingly, and with a pure and sincere conscience, and give birth to him through the working of his grace in us which should shine forth as an example to others.” Certainly Mary’s yes, carrying Jesus, and then giving birth to him shines as an example for us today of what total freedom and commitment in and to God looks like, but can I really do the same?

St. Francis would say yes. In fact, he is saying that all are called to the sacred and profound task of bearing and birthing Jesus into this world and by so doing declaring the advent, or coming, of the Kingdom of God in our own time and place. Joan Chittister is surely saying the same when she writes in The Liturgical Year, “It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent, that we come to realize that its coming depends on us.” You see, we are not just waiting for baby Jesus to show up. It is through our actions during our waiting, our saying yes, that Jesus comes again and again into this world!

As we begin this advent journey, there is one thing I think important to note. When Mary said, “Let it be with me according to your word,” she surely did not know the particulars of the journey that lie ahead, let alone its scope or impact. (She might have said no if she did!) The same is true for us. To say yes to God means letting go of our preplanned destinations and well-mapped routes to get there. Through intimate relationship with God – the work of the spiritual life – we come to a liberating trust that God sees the “bigger picture” that we cannot. Although perhaps scary at first, if we can learn to travel in trust like Mary, we can also travel assured like Mary that nothing is impossible with God. We are freed to say yes in response to the one who first says yes to us!

Spiritual Practice: What is currently restricting your free yes in response to God’s deep invitation in your life? Pray for the ability to freely offer your yes to God.

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Are you searching for ways to go deeper this Advent? Click the image above for a free Advent spiritual retreat resource.

FOR HOPE

Lenten Practice: Holy Attention
Daily Act: Pray the mission prayer and be open throughout your day. “God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me the courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.”
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.”

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

We are in the heart of Lent.
We have been clearing an inward space for days, weeks.
With reluctance we have laid down slowly
The need to be in control.
We have been seeking spiritual freedom
From the chains of complacency that bind us.

Slowly, we have been clearing out.
Still we are clearing-
A process.
The more we face
The more we find.

The space-making is not
For new obsessions with what is found.
It is not for tearing ourselves down
Or becoming self-absorbed in another way.
It is not for getting lost in lament
Or throwing up our arms in hopeless abandon
At our flawed human condition.

It is for seeing.
It is for making ready.
It is for holy expectation.
It is for hope.

It is for loosening the grip of distraction
To focus our hearts on what they
Yearn for anyway-
The abundance of God’s presence
Active and moving and living
In the world around us.

It is for releasing the illusion of safety
To risk on the God beyond our knowing
So we can risk on others
Who we are called to know.

It is for awakening
From the rituals
That can numb us-
That tempt us with thinking
The routine is the relationship
While our hungering hearts
Crave what is real.

It is for casting aside all fear
And doubt
And disbelief
And apathy
And anything
That would say to us
Nothing is working

And to see again
How the Spirit
Has never stopped
Moving
Speaking
Breathing
Everywhere
Always
Within and
Around us.

Keep clearing out.
Keep making this space.
Dare to let go of whatever stifles
God’s fullest life in us.

It is for seeing.
It is for making ready.
It is for holy expectation.
It is for hope.

God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me the courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.