Originally published through Church of the Holy Communion's Sacred Presence Blog
I just love Lent.
It’s not like I have a thing for penitence … or do I?
A quick Google search reveals penitence synonyms like guilt and shame. I don’t believe God’s inviting me to spend 40 days framed in those two feelings, but I also see the words sorrow, regret and amends. These three words prompt questions in my heart that stir up emotions asking me to pay attention.
I’m human. One of the toughest gigs I can imagine. A day doesn’t go by in my life that doesn’t need a bit of reflection.
These 40 days of Lent were designed to correlate with the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness to fast, pray and experience temptation. In our wild world, every day can be a romp in the wilderness.
Even though Easter Sunday moves around, we have about 325 days a year that aren’t Lent. Odds are it’s easy to get a build-up of regret, resentment, fear, judgment, selfishness, etc. in that length of time. I’ve learned the hard way that these actions, thoughts and emotions will get in the way of fully living the life God intends for us and learning the lessons needed to help this happen.
This is why I love the gift of the Lenten season.
In 2017, I met with our rector, the Reverend Sandy Webb, to ponder my next moves as my teen son, Adam, was completing his 30 months of cancer treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I had no idea how really lost I was in mind, body, and spirit even though I’d tethered close to God to support Adam and survive that challenge. Sandy suggested I take the Lenten season to reflect upon areas of my life each week. See how that unfolded here.
I wrote back then about Sandy’s sermon the Sunday before Lent. He spoke of Lent “as a season of penitence and fasting, a time to reflect on where we have become separated from God. He said that when we fully engage in Lent, it can become one of those thin places where we can see through what is and into what is divine. He spoke of the wilderness as a place where we can face our demons, name our fears and where God reveals himself and we can see His divinity.”
So this is Year Three of this beloved Lenten journey I share with my “Wilderness” friend Eryn McEwan Seavey in Boston. To discern our plan for 2019, we met a couple of weeks ago on the phone with our journals in hand, set a timer for 20 minutes and imagined stepping into the wilderness to ask for clarity on our journey ahead. It’s amazing what we discover every time we step in.
Here’s our plan for this year based on what I wrote in my journal combined with extra questions Eryn added:
An Inner Homecoming
This Lent, turn toward God and learn. Pay attention. See the magic between us and your calling.
Week 1 - Singleness of Heart: Where am I separate or divided from God? What is getting in the way and why? With God's and the wilderness' help, what truths about myself do I want or need to look at during this Lenten journey?"
Week 2 - My Internal Home: Describe myself using as many adjectives as I can. What are my areas of greatest satisfaction? What are my areas of least satisfaction? What might I discover to offer me a clearer sense of me, my soul and heart? What might God be calling me to discern from this?
Week 3 - Inner Spring Cleaning: Clean house. Get rid of what no longer serves. Release the junk and make room for new. What habits, beliefs, thoughts, hesitations, fears, etc. keep me separate from God? Make lists, pray, begin to release what no longer serves you and God.
Week 4 - Receive What is New: Through prayer, silence, stillness, or even play-filled movement, notice what God is offering you now. Where might you be resistant to this and why? What can you do to invite this in? What new growth might be needed to be able to receive all of this? What callings/life dreams might have been pushed aside out of feelings of unworthiness, doubt, intimidation, fear, etc?
Week 5 - Ignite Inner Fire: God calls us to grow up into our whole self, mind, body and spirit during this lifetime. Where has life or my action possibly dampened the fire within? How can I prepare to come home into my heart and soul to live more alive and willing? Where might I need to surrender more fully with faith and hope to God’s calling for my life? What might it feel like to become a beacon of God’s light?
Week 6 - Move all the way in! Come home! As we approach Holy Week, what do I bring into this new space that my Lenten journey has freed up? How intentional can I be about what comes in and what needs to stay out? With God as my spiritual director and interior designer, what do I discover about me now? How can I become more of who made me to be?
Here are a few tips based on what we’ve learned.
Create a Lenten daily discipline to help enter the wilderness.
Short Devotionals - Last June, I had the life gift of attending a “An Almost Heaven” retreat at the West Virginia Institute for Spirituality with Dr. Carole Riley serving as my spiritual director. Ever since my time with Sister Carole, this idea of coming home to God and myself has been brewing in my heart and inviting many life changes. Here are the institute's daily devotionals for this season. They match what we are doing perfectly and will inspire this adventure to be even richer.
Prayer and mediation - Perhaps an invitation for God to meet you there. Sr. Carole taught me to walk around saying, “I see God seeing me seeing God” until I felt my mind settling down. Then just before I sit down with my journal, I say, “I’m going in!” There’s something about that that really works.
Willingness to be surprised - Asking questions in the wilderness is brave. Being curious and willing will deepen the experience.
Reflect - At the end of each week, I will write a short prayer to capture what I’ve discovered. I’ll be bringing a copy of Eryn’s and mine to the Good Friday service and place them in the cauldron to help kindle the fire for the Great Vigil of Easter. Plan a way to simply capture each week.
Schedule time with a minister or other trusted soul - Lent is a wonderful time to share where you are in life and seek support or guidance from wise folks.
Ditch perfection - Remember, this is a journey, and all journeys go better when the option to do it perfectly is left outside the gates to the wilderness.
Eryn and I invite you to join us in this journey. Take this as framework or design something that works for you. Also, the link above has another six-week option from our first year. It’s been an honor to have people join us from all over. It doesn’t matter if church is your thing or not. It’s a gift to ourselves to take time to reflect, and the benefits are greater than we imagine.
I’ve said this before, but there’s no time but the present, so here it is again. I believe that when we step into an intentional Lent, we have the chance to discover what waits to be learned from that thin place. Sandy referred to the wilderness as holy ground. “A place where it is good for us to be there. Not easy, but good.”
You will be in my prayers.