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.

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