Engaging the Call of Lent
God’s providence is total, unconditional, absolute and forever. We might speak of such providence as love or blessings or grace. What is clear throughout our faith history is that we understand that God’s attitude towards us is eternal. Richard Rohr, the Roman Catholic priest and theologian, reminds us of this fact in his book The Great Themes of Scripture. He also reminds us that we are the ones who change and who have the potential to change.[i]
We do pretty well when we are able to remember God’s constant gift to us and creation. When we forget, we tend to move into darkness and sin. The Bible tells us that, as humans, we will constantly go wrong when we forget this providence. We will stray; we will wander. We will be like sheep without a shepherd. When we forget God’s providence, we lie to ourselves and believe we in charge. When we forget, we consume rather than provide. When we forget, we become selfish and egocentric rather than caring, giving and “other”-centered. Truth is we forget a lot.
We forget that we have a vocation of tending and cultivating the garden within us and around us. We tend to overindulge ourselves either tending the inner garden of the soul to the detriment of the created world around us, or we do the opposite. The vocation of human beings is to do both equally well. We are to journey with God toward the fuller participation in God’s life inwardly. And we are to engage the world around us in restorative works that sustain and build community and creation itself.
The sin we talk about, the ego driven and narcissistic life of human beings, obscures and hides the true purpose of our created nature. We disregard one another for the very real needs of life (food, water, shelter and health) or for the ideal of wealth and prestige. We become “estranged” from one another and creation. Our communion (koinonia), provided by God, is broken as we focus on our own needs rather than the needs of others.[ii]
It is important as a spiritual discipline not only to acknowledge our brokenness but to amend and change our life. We must constantly make mid-course corrections both in our spiritual life and in our life of service. This corrective formation begins with acknowledging the person and purpose of Jesus Christ.
Historically we, as Christians, have believed that the correcting action in the world was the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ; that is specifically the unique “self-emptying (kenosis) of the Person of the Word of God. It is a fundamental point of patristic anthropology that the eternal Word of God of His own free will dwelt among us in order to realize in His incarnate person the restoration of humanity.”[iii]
We believe as Christians that we have the opportunity to change and be transformed by the incarnation of God and the coming of the Holy Spirit. We believe that in and through community life we may be reformed by the Holy Spirit and can “live a life of love and obedience to God, and bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).”[iv] By recognizing our vocation given to us by the Father, claiming the new creation provided by Jesus Christ and living in communion and community through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are each able to clarify our mission and our ministry. When we set our lives to the work of unity with God, our unity with the community and creation around us is reborn. We are freed from the bondage of sin to a restored life free from nurturing our own desires.
Lent is a season to focus intentionally upon this re-forming, re-creating work.
We are reminded of this work in our liturgy for Ash Wednesday. We remember that Christians have observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection. We remember that this is a season of penitence and fasting. We remember that Lent is a time to prepare new converts and to be transformed by their faith and the work of formation one to another. It is a time when those who have been far away from the church because of sin are returned, through their repentance, to the body of Christ. People in Lent are restored and renewed, reformed and recreated. This Lenten season is a season which makes the whole of the Church (Christ’s Body) refreshed.
“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”[v]
I invite you to re-engage with God in all your believing and even in your unbelieving. I invite you to re-engage in your community and church; make amends and rebuild your relationships. Be accountable for your actions more than holding others accountable for theirs. Come to terms with God’s vision for your life, how you believe you have failed, and then receive the healing gifts of Christ. Make this a holy Lent for you, for your friends, for your family and for your church. Let us together, bound by the Holy Spirit, be transformed as we make our pilgrim way of Lent. Help us to see that God provides, God loves and God recreates us for divine work.
- "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
- "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
- "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
- "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
- "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
- "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
- "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
- "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball