the invitation of lent

When I worked for Xerox, right out of college, I was a lousy saleswoman.  I was supposed to ask how many copies they made, whether they were one sided or two and get a clear picture of their needs, so that I could fit the new copier to those identified needs.  Here was my problem. I didn’t care how many copies they made and most of the time wasn’t convinced that they even needed a new copier!  What I did care about was understanding who God was for them. How did they survive the hurt and pain of life as well as risk embracing the profound joys?   Did they know they were truly loved?  Those questions, as you might imagine, were off limits. unfurling

I’m afraid I’m still not a good saleswoman.  Before Lent began, a friend of mine invited suggestions for things he might do for Lent on his Facebook page.  A great number of people had a host of suggestions, things to take on, things to resist, disciplines to embrace.  In the end, he decided to take on the intentional practice of being gentle with himself.  This isn’t someone just wanting to take a pass on Lent, rather it is someone who appreciates that his own running self criticism and doubt actually gets in the way of his relationship with God. That isn’t one I’ve heard very often, but I admit I found it appealing, especially since we are called upon to love our neighbors as our selves.

Personally, I’ve always had a bit of a struggle with Lent.  I couldn’t always put my finger on just why, until I heard another friend remark “don’t take on something for Lent unless you are prepared to give it up again at Easter.  Lent,” she reminds, “isn’t a self help program!”   Indeed!  Somehow the self-improvement infection wends its way even into Lent, as it is hard not to have keep our eye on the secondary benefits incurred.  And don’t get me started on the ways Lenten practices provide me an opportunity for pride or self-judgment, depending on how well I’m attending to my discipline of choice.  No wonder the idea of being gentle with myself as something to focus on for the season is appealing!

In the end, I don’t tend to ask people what they are giving up or taking on for Lent, and I don’t tend to make a passionate plea about giving things up and/or taking things on.   Lent is an invitation to deepen our connection with the One who created us and longs for us to know we are already set free from all that binds us. 

It is about being aware of and tending to the silence deep at our core, and knowing in that center space that we are loved and worthy and whole.  Beyond the self-help program lies profound healing and restoration, hope and joy, offered with love and generosity.  The question becomes what will help me to develop a greater awareness of myself and deepen my communion with the Source of all being.

That was what struck me at our recent parish retreat.  We are all in very different places on the Way and what might help each one of us move in the direction of greater freedom, healing, peace, joy, life, light and love might be radically different. For some it is sharing in the contemplative circle of prayer, for others it is joining in making space|in the chapel.  Perhaps it is taking time to be aware of God’s presence in the sacred space of the chapel or risking sharing from the heart at our parish ‘town hall’ meeting at 9:00 am this Saturday.  For some it is reading Help, Thanks, Wow with the larger community of the diocese, meeting regularly with a spiritual director or soul friend, and for others still it is attending to being gentle with themselves.

So, how is it going for you?  If you took something on or gave something up, how are you feeling about it?  But even more important, who is God for you?  What do you do with the deep hurts of life and what brings true joy?   How are you nurturing yourself and your relationship with the living One?  What might help you to know how truly loved you are?