Let us pray:
Now, O Lord, calm us into quietness. Take us to that place within You that heals, listens, and molds our longings and passions, our wounds and wanderings, and transforms us into a more holy human shape. For it is in You that we live and move and have our being. Amen.
Two Sundays ago was Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday; texts are usually about Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up the mountain; they see him bathed in dazzling white robes speaking with Moses and Elijah. They hear God’s voice, and the Holy Spirit envelops the entire mountaintop in a cloud reminiscent of the cloud that led the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years. There, fearful in the midst of the very presence of the Most Holy, they hear God’s voice say, “This is my beloved son, listen to him!”
A week ago last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday – a day to be marked with ashes and reminded we are made of the dust of earth and to dust our bodies shall return. Thus marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Today is the second Sunday in Lent, and tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. You may be wondering, Okay, what are you going to pull out now? You can’t possibly tie all those up somehow, can you?
Let’s start with St. Patrick. Coming home from work this time of year is especially beautiful, I think. The quality of sunlight, when the planet allows it to shine through, is like a dappled golden shadow upon the surface of the earth. We call it “twilight;” my Scottish ancestors called it the “gloaming.’” Ancient Celtic Christians such as St. Patrick might say twilight is one of those “thin spaces.” A “thin space” is “thin” because it seems the distance between heaven and earth becomes thin enough for us on our side to sense divine activity.
There are also other times and places sacred enough to have that same “thin space” feeling. Any time I experience a “thin space,” I try to pay close attention, for if we aware enough to be open to them, such “thin space” moments can be windows through which we can learn from and sense the timelessness of God.
What can we learn from such moments? For me, such moments are like bright and shining dreams that dissolve into mist. Sometimes as the mist clears and the dream is gone, I am stronger. At other times, I have had to let the moment be a baptism of sorts as my tears fall down, anointing the dust of earth with broken dreams. Yet tears can water the tender young shoots of spring green that are new threads of understanding, new kernels of insight given to us by God, growing within us and reaching for Light and Warmth from Above. So I say thank you to the Celtic Saints of old who have felt deeply, thought keenly, and left us with a rich spiritual awakening.
Today, Lent is evolving once again to be a time of deepened spiritual practice. One common discipline during Lent is to give something up that has a strong pull on us, something that may clutter our every-day existence and distract us from God’s presence and activity in our lives.
This practice of giving something up for Lent is a way to make space for seeing more of Jesus, more of the Kingdom of God at work. Each time I reach that point I am reminded: that moment is an opportunity to look around with my faith lenses on, and ask the Holy Spirit to show me something I should see. A step farther in that challenge is to then ask how might I join in contributing to the work and witness of the Kingdom of God in that moment.
Put scripturally, Jesus recognized that following him would cost his followers everything, but he didn’t ask them to focus on that most of the time. Instead, by the very nature of his ministry through modeling and teaching, his disciples focused on him; things that needed to be let go of eventually got left behind. Consider poor old Nicodemus. For the longest time, he remained stuck, unable to let go of his standing as a leading Pharisee and teacher of the law…even though he met with Jesus to be sure of what he suspected, he could not leave behind what he had always known. He eventually gets it, but he has to outlive Jesus, living through that sorrow to understand.
Which reminds me, I would be remiss as an educator if I did not mention that another way to learn and understand our place in God’s Kingdom more clearly is to read the Bible regularly-even the parts we don’t normally hear about on Sunday mornings. For Lent, have you considered reading scriptures daily instead of once or twice a week together? Between now and Easter, perhaps you can find someone to try this with-even if it’s on the phone.
That being said, I will be the first to admit that I have a hard time reading anything daily with a preschooler and a toddler running around, but it is an opportunity for rich sacred reflection, and I try to do it as often as I can. Now, for the slightly more daring of you, I have provided an additional tool as you read scripture together. On your bulletin insert is an outline of a Group Lectio Divina activity. Try it, see if it works for you as a deepening of your dialog with God and one another during this liturgical season.
If you don’t get to it his year, keep it for next. After all, Lent comes around each year, unlocking our souls and opening the doors of our hearts to what Christ has to teach us. It is a time to make space for the birthing of a stronger faith, a way to hold onto the life of the Spirit even though we are still riven to the earth upon which we stand. It is a chance to grow in our faith journey, both collectively and individually.
These 40 days of Lent are also a time to metaphorically return to the desert where Jesus spent 40 days readying for his ministry – a ministry he knew would eventually lead to the cross.
Not only does a Lenten practice allow us to walk the road with Jesus for a while, amazingly all Creation seems to echo this journey with us. The origin of the word, “Lent” comes from a Germanic language root meaning, “spring” and “long.” Even as the sun warms our earth, illuminating fresh new flowers setting forth their buds each lengthening day, so too do we have the opportunity to awake anew to that which is around us. Through Lenten “faith lenses,” gaze about you, asking the Holy Spirit to show you what it is you are meant to see.
Personally, for me, Lent and springtime together both teach me to take the “long view” and live in humble grace as I accept with thanks the lessons I learned in the past year. It is like a springtime for the soul; a time of preparation for the joyous Easter that is yet to come.
During Lent we can choose to reduce the clutter of daily life and enter into a deeper sharing of our journeys of faith as we live into the life and teachings of Christ. We may not be perfect at it, but we are still, each of us, a vessel for the indwelling of the Spirit of God. In our frailty as imperfect human beings, we are still empowered to make choices to begin again, to return to the ancient paths of repentance and renewal.
Jesus sent out the disciples to do the work of the Kingdom of God and gave them the cup of a new covenant at the Last Supper. For us, in Communion, and even with rainbows that still appear for us to this day, we are reminded for all time that we, and indeed all God’s creation under our care, are given a new covenant. In Jesus Christ God has provided all of us a new life, but that is just the beginning of our conversation with God. I invite you to deepen your dialog.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose for us; even Him who is the Christ. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Christ, and to the indwelling Holy Spirit within and among us. Amen? May it be so.
For your Christian Education Toolbox: Lectio Divina Group Bible Study
Guidelines: when listening, listen with as many senses as you can. When sharing, speak only the part that shimmers. Refrain from commenting on others’ words or phrases. Prepare your minds and hearts to be open to God. This might look like:
- Siting relaxed with both feet flat on the floor
- Eyes closed or open
- Hands open, resting on legs palm up or just resting
- Playing a chime or ringing a prayer bowl to begin
- Have one person read the passage out loud slowly. Listen to the passage and pay attention to the text. See if a word or passage seems to stand out for you, or “shimmers” in some way. When the reading is done, wait in silence for a short time (ex. 2-3 minutes.) Repeat to yourself the word or phrase that stood out or shimmered for you while you wait.
- For those willing to share, say out loud your word or phrase. If you wish to pass, say “pass.”
- Have a different person read the passage out loud slowly. Listen. Pay attention to the text. If a feeling or image comes to mind as the passage is read, hold onto it. When the reading is done, wait in silence a longer time (ex. 5-7 min.) and repeat silently to yourself the feeling or image that came to you.
- If willing, share the feeling or image with the group or pass.
- Have a third person read the text. Again, listen for the word or phrase that shimmers or stands out for you. What image or feeling accompanies that word or phrase? Wait in silence when the reading is done (10-15 min.), concentrating on your word/phrase/feeling/image.
- Conclude by playing a chime or ringing a prayer bowl.
- What was your experience of this method of meditation on God’s word?
- Did a single message come through for the group as a whole? Were there multiple messages that could apply for everyone?
- What actions are you moved to take after experiencing God’s word in this way?
Offer a brief prayer of thanksgiving for the experience before dismissing.
If this method of Bible Study is helpful, add it to your toolbox!