Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday: Invitation to Abide

For Lent this year, I am committing to a practice of abiding, of spending intentional time resting with and listening to the Lord. I will be using Macrina Wiederkehr’s wonderful new book, Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God, as my guide.

I will not necessarily be sharing reflections of my time on a daily basis, as I do not want the activity of posting to become my focus. However, the times spent prayerful listening will undoubtedly spill over onto the blog. What I do want to be sure to share are some notes from the book’s introduction, to give you a taste of the meditations included therein.

Sister Macrina lays out the following path of lectio divina (sacred reading as prayer):

~ Wait in silence

~ Read contemplatively

~ Listen obediently

~ Pray as the Holy Spirit leads

~ Abide

Of this final step, we are told:

This is a beautiful moment spent in pure contemplative presence with the Beloved. This is love. “Remain in me, as I remain in you” (John 15:4). “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10, NRSV). Dwell. Remain in love. ABIDE.

We are invited to see this process as a pilgrimage of sorts, with each pause for reflection as a holy space.

Finally, we are invited to carry our vigil with us as we move about our day:

Be open to God’s Word blossoming everywhere. Walk with awareness through forests, parks, and gardens, along the seashore, or down a busy city street. The Word of God is near you. Climb a mountain and the Word will meet you. Move mindfully through your daily work tasks – the Word is at your fingertips. Celebrate the Eucharist with a community of struggling believers. You will be enfolded into God’s Creative Word.

I am looking forward to leaning into the 40 reflections and prayers in this little book as we move slowly, steadily from the solemnity of Ash Wednesday to the celebration of Easter.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Preparing for Lent - 3 of 3

Finally, we come to the “Be” of “Be Here Now” – our orientation toward our creator, the invitation to abide, to be still, to cease striving, the practice of resting and listening.


Breathe in slowly.

Breathe out slowly.

Let’s continue…

In John 15, we are not only invited to abide in Christ, we are informed that in order for the fruit of the spirit to grow from our lives, we must abide in Christ. The fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is germinated when our lives are rooted in God, when we slow down, allow ourselves to be still, and remember that there is a story bigger than ourselves and a power greater than our own.

When we find a rhythm of Sabbath in our lives, when we identify pockets of time (whether it be a quiet coffee break, a day set apart, or a sabbatical year) in which to release control to God and open our hearts to hear the spirit’s stirrings, we are reminded of who we are. We are a beloved creation, with unique gifts to share. We are also a limited creation, and we are not expected to do it all.

The poet Rilke writes,

I am, you anxious one.
Don’t you sense me, ready to break into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings.
Can’t you see me standing before you cloaked in stillness?
Hasn’t my longing ripened in you from the beginning as fruit ripens on a branch?

In Psalm 46, God speaks into the midst of chaos with the words: Be still and know that I am God. In a few retreats I have attended, this verse is used to draw us into a time of rest and quiet.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I AM.

Be still and know.

Be still.


Our prayer exercise for the practice of being was an invitation to centering prayer. Taking your word from the lectio divina in the “Here” post, try sitting quietly in the presence of God, with nothing to share, nothing to ask, nothing to expect. If you find your mind starting to wander, simply repeat your word – silently, slowly, calmly – to draw you back to the moment. Rest in God’s presence. Be present. Abide.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Preparing for Lent - 2 of 3

In the previous post, we looked at the “Now” of “Be Here Now”- our orientation to time and our choice to practice forgiveness & trust over bitterness & anxiousness. Continuing our reverse trek, we will now look at the idea of being present “Here”.

Here is an orientation to place, to the space we currently inhabit, the community we are currently planted in, the circumstances that currently surround us. I associate it with terms such as stability, rootedness and connection.

When we think of Jeremiah 29, we most often think of verse 11 – God knows the plans he has for us, and they are big ones! The future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades! Let’s go get ’em! It’s all fine and dandy that our creator has plans to prosper his people, to give them hope and a future, but that doesn’t change the fact that from Adam to Abraham and beyond, God’s people have always had to endure the nitty-gritty of daily life, and the consequences of their choices. That’s why my favorite part of Jeremiah 29 is found earlier in the chapter, in verses 4-7:

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Once again, the Israelites have found themselves in a foreign land, not a place they want to be, not the place God wanted them to be, yet here they were. And rather than a baby in a basket, rather than plagues and a Passover, God tells them to settle down, to make a home, to plant themselves in this place. And that prosperity? It will be dependent on how much they participate in seeking peace and prosperity for this land of their exile.

In the movie Click, the main character finds himself at the end of his life, distraught because while he was trying to fast forward through the moments he found dull or difficult, he missed out on the moments that were sacred and beautiful. In much the same way, if we keep waiting for life to happen somewhere else, under different circumstances, WE MISS LIFE! Participating in life means we are willing to be vulnerable, allowing ourselves to be known beyond our masks. Participating in life means we take the chance of being hurt, and we take the chance of being loved. Participating in life means releasing our illusion of control and embracing it all – the boredom and the grief and the beauty and the joy and the bellyaching laughter.

Being rooted in a place, does not mean that we can never go elsewhere, but it does mean we do so intentionally. When we read about the Holy Spirit going with us in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth – some of us become very eager to jump to all of those uttermost parts. However, unless you choose one of those places, root yourself into community there, allow your walls to come down so that you can truly engage the people around you, you are not doing much for the peace and prosperity of that place, or the peace and prosperity of your own heart.

Mother Theresa famously said, “I want you to go and find the poor in your homes. Above all, your love has to start there. I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know who your neighbor is?” It can be very easy to go and serve in unfamiliar places where we only land for a short while, because it does not require much vulnerability on our parts. But if we really want to impact and be impacted by a community, we have to be fully present there, allow our walls and masks to fall to the ground, and settle down into daily life with one another.

The prayer exercise we practiced in conjunction with the discussion of being “here” was a lectio divina reading of Psalm 37:1-9. Sit with the passage and ask the Lord to speak to you about what it looks like to settle down into a place. Read slowly through the passage and get an overview of the verses. Pause, and let it sink in. Read slowly through it another time, and pay attention for a word that stands out to you. Read slowly through it a third time, and listen for your word in context. Sit with that word for a time, and allow the Lord to plant it in your heart.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Preparing for Lent - 1 of 3

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of talking about the importance of being present in the reality of our lives. Last week I read the introduction to Macrina Wiederkehr's Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God, and realized the 40 reflections would make a wonderful Lenten practice. So, I thought I would rehash some of my notes on presence in the days leading up to Lent, and give a brief introduction to Sister Macrina's book on Ash Wednesday. I hope these reflections will benefit your journey, as well. The practice of presence, of abiding, is not one I have down, but rather one I have committed to developing this year.

When thinking about the importance of presence, of dwelling with God in the reality of my life, I can't help but settle on the phrase "Be Here Now". And, while I know that the beginning is a very good place to start, I chose to begin at the end: NOW.

Now is an orientation to time, to the present, wedged between what has been and what will be. Now is a place where we choose to experience life as it presents itself. When we choose to live stuck in the past, we choose to live in bitterness over things we miss, things that hurt us, things we never accomplished - we have the illusion that by holding on to these things we some how have control over them or can change what happened. Similarly, when we choose to live focused on the future, we choose to live in anxiousness over what may or may not happen - we have the illusion that by staying focused on the maybe-but-not-yet that we can control those things before they ever come to be.

Matthew 6:25-34 has been one of my favorite passages since youth group days - long before I truly understood the significance: do not worry... can anyone by worrying add an hour to their life... do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will worry about itself... each day has enough trouble of its own.

Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Exodus records the story of the Israelite journey from slavery in Egypt to the promised land, a journey that was much longer than it had to be. The Lord was present with Israel, freeing them from Egypt, making a way through the sea, guiding them through the desert with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, yet despite God's presence and provision, it still took the Israelites 40 years of wandering around the wilderness before they reached their not-so-distant destination. Why? Bitterness and anxiousness.

The Lord promised to provide bread and meat daily for the people as they progressed on their journey: The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. Yet the Israelites were bitter, fondly remembering the food they ate in captivity, lamenting the simplicity and perhaps strangeness of the food that was being provided for them daily. They were also anxious, concerned about if there truly would be enough food the next day, what the new land would really be like, what it would truly take to inhabit.

Each day has enough provision of its own.

Elijah had a bitterness/anxiousness episode of his own in the wilderness. After being miraculously provided with food by a poor widow, after having a part in bringing that woman's son back to life, after an amazing experience displaying the presence of God before the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Elijah found out Jezebel was angry and wanted him dead, so he fled. God was continuously present and doing miracles all around him, but one angry woman and the prophet was spent. Exhausted and afraid, the weary prophet finds himself in the wilderness, with God once again providing him with food & drink. God was present with Elijah as a still, small voice. Twice the Lord asked, "What are you doing here Elijah?" Twice Elijah lamented,
“I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” Elijah was bitter. Bitter that he had done everything right, and yet his life was being threatened. Elijah was also anxious about what may happen should Jezebel get her way - despite how God had provided for him all along his journey.

Choosing to live in the present is a practice of choosing forgiveness & trust over bitterness & anxiousness. It is a practice of choosing to live in the only moment we truly have any control over, the here-and-now, and the control we have is that of being willing to forgive what has happened and being willing to trust God in what will come.

A prayer exercise that is helpful to keeping your spirit in the now is a daily prayer of examen. A time where you intentionally reflect on your day, offering thanksgiving and repentance where necessary, releasing bitterness and anxiousness where you find it, and preparing yourself to be fully present with Christ in the day ahead - to allow both its trouble and its provision to be enough.