A season of spiritual preparationWhere's the Faith? Thursday, April 10th, 2014
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
As a progressive, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to God – this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!
Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. Many didn’t grow up commemorating Lent, so here’s a brief overview of Lent.
The liturgical calendar is made up of seasons throughout the year. The season of Lent is a 40-day journey leading up to Easter; 40-days, plus Sundays.
This season of Lent in the life of the church is reflective of Jesus’ 40-days in the wilderness, where he fasted and prayed and struggled with temptation; it was in the wilderness that Jesus was able to discern his true relationship to God.
At this season of the year, Christians are called to slow down their hectic lives, to make moments, and take moments of reflection, and enter into 40-days of examining our hearts.
It’s a season of spiritual preparation; a time of introspection marked by spiritual disciplines like prayer, almsgiving and fasting. It’s a time for us, like Jesus did in the wilderness, to discern our true relationship to God.
We read in Matthew 6 where Jesus says that the place of transformation takes place – in secret. It’s in quiet, as we find that calm center, where transformation happens.
Mona West, an elder with the MCC denomination, wrote recently, “It is that quiet space, that secret space, that empty centering point in the hearts of all believers where we wait upon God to speak to us, to see us in the silence and to name us in a deeply intimate way.”
On our Facebook entry for Ash Wednesday, there’s a quote from Thomas Keating that helps explain Lent in a beautiful way. “Lent is the season in which the church as a whole enters into an extended retreat. Jesus went into the desert for 40-days and 40-nights. The practice of Lent is a participation in Jesus’ solitude and silence.”
Historically, the way people in the Christian church have characterized the season of Lent is by “giving up” or “taking on” certain things. It’s not uncommon to hear the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?”
I saw a poll recently showing the top things people give up for Lent. No. 1 is chocolate, followed by social media, swearing and smoking. And the teenagers’ number one answer for what they would give up for Lent was school!
This “giving up” or “taking on” is what is known as spiritual practices or spiritual disciplines. There’s fasting, the “giving up” of food, or a bad habit, or “giving up” too much television or time spent on the Internet; there’s prayer, the “taking on” of a specific time and way to talk with God. There are many ways to communicate with God – meditation, yoga, reading the Bible, etc. And then there’s almsgiving, the giving of ourselves to others through acts of kindness or just being there for someone. These are just some of the spiritual practices we can do that prepare the soil of our souls for God’s work of transformation in us.
However, as Mona West points out, sometimes we confuse the spiritual practice with the transformation. Just doing the practices themselves doesn’t transform us; what they do, is clear out a space in our lives, for God to move and speak.
Let’s look at what Jesus has to say. Notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “If you pray” or “if you give alms” or “if you fast.” He says, “when” you do these things. Friends, spiritual practices in the life of a Christian are not optional. And it’s just not during the season of Lent we are to do them, it’s throughout the year. Lent is a wonderful reminder for us to re-focus, to re-align.
Jesus also talks about our motivation and how we need to be clear about why we are “giving up” or “taking on” certain spiritual disciplines.
Mona West goes on to say, “When our motivation is to come before God, in the secret places of our hearts, to clear a space for God to act through the practice of spiritual disciplines, then the reward is transformation – transformation in the secret places of our hearts.”
I want to invite you, during this Holy season, this season of spiritual transformation, to enter into a covenant with God. Be intentional about the journey. Why a covenant? We covenant with God because God is a God of covenant.
God’s covenant to us is a covenant of love and grace; it’s about redemption and transformation – transformation deep in our souls. When we allow God to transform us, God accomplishes in us what we cannot do for ourselves.
God doesn’t require us to clean up our act before God will love us. God doesn’t need for us to “show the world” we are worthy of God’s love. God doesn’t look at how holy and pure we may think we are because we pray and fast and tithe and give up chocolate.
No, what God asks of us is a willing spirit and a humble heart. Psalm 51 says, “Create in me a clean heart and put a right spirit within me. You desire truth in my inward being, so teach me wisdom in the secret places of my heart.”
Let’s journey with Jesus into the wilderness. As we look inward, quiet down our busy lives for just a bit. Lent can open those secret heart places in each and every one of us. Amen.
Rev. Dan Koeshall is the senior pastor at The Metropolitan Community Church (The Met), 2633 Denver Street, San Diego, California, themetchurch.org. Services every Sunday at 9 and 11 a.m.
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