Lent is a season of entering the desert.
Of letting go of familiar hand holds.
Of entering unknown places.
Lent is a time of relinquishment,
Of the dark night.
Lent reminds us
What it is like to be tempted,
to feel our humanity, our vulnerabilities and weakness.
Lent invites us
to experience accompaniment,
the care of angels even as Christ did in the wilderness.
Lend reminds us
that even in the times we feel most alone,
we are truly not alone.
Love is within and all around.
Love accompanies and breathes alongside.
We are made in Love, by Love and for Love
And we are not abandoned
Even in the days of our desert journey.
We are invited on a journey of trust
Even when we cannot see
We are invited on a journey of hope
Even when we cannot believe
We are invited on a journey of faith
Even when we no longer know.
We are invited to come to the table.
Be Not Afraid
Lent – perhaps a season that is a little uncomfortable.
With Advent, there is a sense of pregnancy, of expectation.
With Lent, there is a sense of being aware of suffering,
of wilderness, of letting go,
of a coming passage into death.
These are not comfortable elements of life.
We do not celebrate suffering, letting go, and death.
We usually seek to avoid these elements of being human.
However, in each of our lives, to be human is to enter the desert.
To be human is to have journeyed through wilderness.
To be human is to have drunk the cup of suffering
and look into the face of death.
It is precisely these elements of being human,
that the person of Christ entered into.
It is his kinship, his friendship with us, as the gospel of John reminds us…
that we are his friends….that we can be aware that even in our own story,
our personal human story of suffering, wilderness, loneliness, letting go….
That there is a friend who also knows this journey, and even now, walks beside.
Wilderness is a place of stark realities.
Is there water, food, a place to lay one’s head?
Is there a blanket to shield me from this storm,
clothing to protect me from this wildness?
I become aware of hunger, of longing, of thirst.
When life is abundant, we forget what it is like to be uncomfortable, to suffer.
Richard Rohr says we suffer when we are no longer in control.
And we all face unexpected losses, sufferings, and aloneness.
There are moments when we feel stripped and become
naked to the vulnerabilities of suffering.
In my own life, I have known the wild and storm filled wilderness of divorce,
the wilderness of shocked grief through the unexpected suicide of a loved one,
the slow wilderness of tender letting go of my mother to cancer.
And each one of us has his or her own story of a dark night of the soul
when it seems one may be alone,
and when one’s heart is broken open to the
shocking realities of letting go of something you want to hang on to.
We also share in a collective suffering as a culture,
None of us are immune from the suffering of others –
facing war, rape, torture, alienation from one’s homeland.
We are all connected and we share in the pain and desert journeys of each other –
that is also what it means to be human.
And this is what Christ embodied as he personally suffered
and took on our suffering as well.
There is a message that comes through strong and clear in the Advent season that the angels proclaim both at the pregnancy and again at birth, ‘be not afraid.’
It is a message that surprises one again and again in the gospels, and seems to be at the heart of the Christian message,
as it was proclaimed again on the
coming Easter morning.
Be not afraid.
But in the wilderness, we are often afraid.
In the times of desert and dark night, fear has crept into my bones
and rattled me to the core.
Fear has gripped my heart and has convinced me in certain moments
that I am isolated,
forgotten, abandoned, and alone.
When fear prevails, I lose the twinkle in my eye, the confidence in my step,
and the joy in my heart.
When fear dominates, our muscles tighten and we prepare for fight or flight, for defense and self-protection.
Fear is visceral; Our whole being is affected.
I hear stories of fear from individuals of all ages – for the unknown future, for the uncertain present, for broken relationships, and unmet longings.
I hear fear from others listening to the news and holding a collective fear for our global politics and peace in our land.
Fear is tempting us on every side and can ambush us especially in our desert days.
Is this not the great temptation, the whisper of darkness that comes to us even in this day and age…that we lose our very lives to anxiety and fear?
Love has spoken, I have come that you may have life!
What does this life look like?
Is it possible to face fear, even in wilderness, and yet also know another reality?
The living truth, and deeper reality in journey through the wilderness,
is that there is One who is breathing with us, the Friend of our Souls.
And as Hebrews reminds us, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, even though unseen to our human eye.
Was not Christ himself blessed with these words before he entered the desert,
‘with you I am well pleased’.
Some of us feel our suffering is a punishment.
The time in the desert is perhaps seen as a result of our wrong doing.
However, for Christ, it was part of the human experience
To enter suffering and temptation
AND to know that he was loved AND accompanied
In the moments of greatest isolation and fear.
In the gospel of Mark, Christ is accompanied in his own desert experience:
but through these trials, heavenly messengers cared for Him and ministered to Him.
The reality even though it may be beyond our comprehension is this:
We are accompanied in our hours of greatest need even
if we do not recognize it.
I loved Christmas eve as a child. Going to candlelight service was a meaningful experience for me. I loved the carols, the atmosphere, and anticipation of gifts coming and delicious food. I loved ceremony, rituals and celebration. I loved family, togetherness and closeness. As an adult, I found that I had to let go of these things that meant so much to me. I could no longer share some of these spiritual and traditional moments with those I wanted to. One year I found myself alone at a Christmas eve service. Near the beginning of the service, I experienced pain welling up in my chest and I had to leave where I was sitting and stand in the back. I found myself crying and having a difficult time breathing. In that moment I was feeling so alone, neglected and forsaken. Quietly and with great gentleness, a friend named Sue came up beside me and in silence placed one arm around me. And then she began to breathe. Slowly and with calmness.
In. Out. In. Out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
The great companionship of breathing. There were no words. Only presence. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathing beside me until my own breath could accompany hers in quiet trust.
After that experience, I discovered in the writings of Henri Nouwen how the word ‘Spirit’ means ‘breath’.
Is the very act of breathing a way to become aware of the Presence of Love?
Is the Presence as close as our breath?
Is God in our breath?
These things remain a mystery for me, but I have tasted of the mystery of companionship, of being surrounded in Love even, and perhaps especially, when I have felt most alone. And it has transformed me.
The invitation as we enter the wilderness of Lent is to open our hearts to a deeper awareness of the accompaniment that is truly beside us, and to dare to draw nearer to the Table of Love.
My dear friends, you are not alone.
You are surrounded in Love.
Be not afraid.