I know you’re tired but come, this is the way. Rumi
“There are as many ways to pray as there are moments in life. Sometimes we seek out a quiet spot and want to be alone, sometimes we look for a friend and want to be together… Sometimes we want to say it with words, sometimes with a deep silence.
In all these moments, we gradually make our lives more of a prayer and we open our hands to be led by God even to places we would rather not go.” Henri Nouwen
The church calendar waits for no one. As I write this reflection, people have received bulletins and read newsletters announcing pancake suppers, new study series’ and additional holy services in preparation for the season of Lent. For years we have collected a variety of ways to journey through Lent — depending on your age, depending on the year, depending on your energy/time and most definitely depending on the current buoyancy of your faith. We give up, we take on — we pray in the early light or late at night.
Beginning with all good intentions it may not be long before a daily spiritual routine can be scrambled and frustrations rise. If a practice is not exercised as it was designed is it cancelled? Is a whole plan discarded because of missing a couple of days? There are wise voices both past and present offering encouragement with reminders that the most important part of a spiritual practice is the journey itself.
Our Sunday scripture readings during Lent speak directly to this journey. With readings from the first five books of the Old Testament will hear sacred storied about the blessing and tension between God and God’s people. Covenants will be made by God with Noah, Abraham and Moses. Covenants that will bind these relationships and bring the promise of protection, the growth of nations and God’s guidance as the Hebrew people are led to a land of freedom. A land to call home. These stories will be filled with good news and fiery discourse (not uncommon when a covenant is made with God). In the New Testament the Gospel readings will tell of relationships formed and challenged. We will hear of Jesus baptism, public ministry and important conversation with his disciples. He nurtures these relationships and preaches the good news with a sense of urgency. There is little patience for misguided allegiance. He expresses frustration-tipping-to-anger as he sees corruption and injustice. These readings describe the work required to be in relationship with God. What better time than Lent to read about our faithful ancestors as they lived into their own commitment to God and God to them.
It is a good thing to consider during Lent. The sacrifices we make or practices we take on are ultimately intended to bind us closer to God and God to us. I began this reflection with a quote on prayer from Henri Nouwen. It simply describes the diversity of spiritual practices. His words are a welcome reminder. He makes no promise of an easier journey yet he offers little concern of failing a Lenten resolution.
Each one of these 40 days presents opportunities to learn and grow. The course taken is neither smooth nor straight. That is the way to Jerusalem. From deep within our faith story we know this road. May we meet its crooked path with curiosity and gratitude.
These days and nights are extremely cold. Not something that even people who have lived in these North Carolina mountains a long time are accustomed to. This has been my home now for three years. I am beginning to remember the art of layering clothes to stay warm from my years in Colorado – just in time!!
Some of the nights have stirred with bitter winds bringing the temp to -17 and below. My assistant stayed with me overnight on one of the coldest nights last week. Worried that the power might go out or the roads could be too icy for my morning assistant to travel, she gave extra time to her job with concern and compassion. She knew if there was a problem I would not be left alone. Her offer came without request. I was and am grateful. My home is warmed with shelter and heat. There are people who check to see if I need anything. I do feel the cold but not alone.
Not true for everyone. There are many who meet these cold nights without shelter and warmth. Businesses throughout town talk about finding people asleep up against their front doors when they arrive to work each day. Not everyone has a home and shelters throughout the city fill quickly. So there are homeless people who huddle against the walls of office doorways finding some protection from wind and feeling some warmth from the building’s heat. My heart knows compassion for people homeless and lost. Like so many other things — I know I may not be able to change this but I must be aware – awareness is a part of life’s sacred journey.
I share the reflection below. May it offer a way to pray for protection, comfort and hope for those seeking shelter and those who are lost.
On cold winter nights, when Mother Earth sleeps soundly beneath her blankets of snow, the Spirit walks in silence, seeking any who have become lost on their way home. There is no life left unnoticed by God. There is no child forgotten, no elder dismissed, no prisoner unworthy of recognition, no addict left alone, no lonely soul abandoned. Even the hidden ones among us, the silent ones who try to bear their burdens unspeaking, are under the watchful eye of their Maker. On even the coldest nights, the Spirit walks the back roads and the city streets, holding the light of love just a little higher, for those who expect to see only shadow.
Bp. Steven Charleston.