The seasons cycle round and once more we find ourselves in the season of Lent. For forty days our focus will be directed toward the longing and pain of Christ’s Passion, the harsh reality of the Crucifixion and the life giving promise of Easter. We’ve considered before the ancient Lenten practice of giving something up during this season to help sharpen our focus and move us more deeply into the events we remember through these forty days. And we recognize that sometimes that “giving up’ can seem routine or punitive. I don’t think either of these qualities are to be desired as part of our Lenten practice.
In the Ash Wednesday service in recent years, we have turned to the lovely old hymn that urges drawing “near to the heart of God.” As we look for-ward to walking the road with Jesus, moving inexorably toward Jerusalem and all that will take place there, we sing,
Oh Jesus, blest redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us who wait before Thee
Near to the heart of God.
It is this holy heart of God from which we come and to which we long to re-turn. Though this journey with Jesus moves surely toward all that Holy Week holds, the good and the bad, the ugly and the glorious, it also carries us beyond into the center of what it means to be God’s people, a people always wanting our lives to be held in the heart of God.
If giving up something helps lighten your load so that it’s easier to make the journey, by all means do so. Let go of anything and everything that blocks the way to that place of “quiet rest,” of “comfort sweet,” of “full release,” of “joy and peace” found near the heart of God. I’m sure many of us carry more burdens than we need to do as we wend our way through life. Learning to travel light is good spiritual discipline and serves the Lenten season well.
But it may also be that there are things we need to take on in new or more in-tentional ways. To pray, to contemplate, to sit in silence, to seek out the wonders of God in the world around us, to help another along the way. These and other disciplines also may help to sharpen our focus and move us closer to God’s heart. One of the things we are learning in the classes I am teaching this spring is the importance for pastoral counselors and caregivers to pay attention to cultivating spiritual disciplines in order to make our practice of care more meaningful.
Above all, Lent is a time to pay attention to those things, those elements, those practices which help or hinder us on our journey. Give up chocolate or meat or Facebook or anything that you sense may be blocking your way, if you be-lieve that will truly bring you nearer the heart of God. Set aside regular time for prayer, meditation, silence, reading, helping, if you believe that those prac-tices will move you more surely along the path to the heart of God.
Wait, watch, walk with Jesus. What is it he lets go of, turns his back on, fore-goes as he moves along? What are his disciplines, his practices, his commit-ments as he walks the road laid out before him? What might we learn from his walk and his walking with us that moves us along the road laid out before us? Using Brian McLaren’s, We Make the Road by Walking, we will use texts from the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5, 6 and 7 – as a scriptural guide. What better place to observe Jesus at work for the Beloved Community of God.
Sometimes it may seem that we walk the lonesome valley by ourselves for no one else can walk it for us and sometimes we take the hand of our neighbor, our journey partner, our beloved and walk the road together in blessed company. However we travel through this Lenten season, may it lead us ever nearer the heart of God.
Yours on the journey,