Lent can be a tough time for those who feel like they’ve been “living Lent” for the past few years.
We hear about the dramatic increases in depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
We see frustration and anger play out in violence and hatred.
We’ve talked in Lents past about “metanoia:” repenting, having a change of mind and heart,
and opening our hearts to others.
And yet if our own hearts are hurting, this can be a hard task.
But it can be a healing task as well if we allow others’ pain to speak deeply to us,
and we allow ourselves to speak deeply in return.
This Lent, let our hearts be changed by the gift of God’s great mercy.
Let that mercy heal us and those we touch.
Sunday, February 27: “For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles.” (Lk 6:39-45)
But sometimes, they try to do just that, particularly if they were led to believe they were going to get figs or grapes in the first place! There’s a name for this phenomenon — “escalation of commitment” — which is caused by the need for justification or ego preservation. People don’t like to admit they were wrong about an initial decision, so continue to give money to scams, follow “wolves in sheep’s’ clothing,” or remain in unhealthy or dangerous situations even though they might cognitively realize their mistake. Do you know anyone caught in this web? Are you stuck in this pattern? Ask Jesus to shed the Spirit’s light and give you the courage and strength to walk away.
Today’s Provision: Mercy. People who experience this type of entanglement can feel so ashamed and foolish. The last thing they need from us is an “I told you so!” or, “It’s about time you came to your senses.” Try a little tenderness. Be merciful. If you’ve been the one caught up, forgive yourself and seek forgiveness from anyone you’ve hurt. (Remember, if you seek forgiveness and make restitution, and the other refuses to accept it, it falls back on them.)
Monday, February 28: “…rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pt 1:3-9)
This line from Peter’s letter tripped me up. Is the goal of my faith the salvation of my soul? That strikes me as pretty self-serving and a bit reminiscent of Pascal’s Wager: If I live my life as if there is a God (and an afterlife) and it turns out there aren’t, what have I lost as compared to living my life like there is no God or afterlife and it turning out to be true? It made me pause: What really is the goal of my faith?
Today’s Provision: Love. St. Ignatius of Loyola says we are created to love and serve God (and therefore others) and to live with God forever — this is the goal of our faith. God is love, so we are from love and unto love we will return. The goal of our faith is to love and if we love, our souls will rest easy with God.
Tuesday, March 1: “Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind…and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pt 1:10-16)
Peter hearkens back to God’s instructions in Exodus 12 as the Israelites prepare for the Passover. When a man or woman has their loins girt, it means they are ready for action, to be on the move. We hear it more frequently with men setting out to work or battle, but women too would fold the hems of their long tunics into their belts to tend the fields or to gather the harvest. The idea was to get rid of the unnecessary fabric in order to deal with the task at hand, akin to the American phrase of rolling up one’s sleeves.
Today’s Provision—Focus on Grace: This is a great metaphor—gird up the loins of your mind. We spend so much of our lives caught up in the extra “fabric.” It’s interesting and often disheartening to look back over the last few hours and see where it’s gone: waiting in line, telephone tag, getting lost in internet searches, in unending zoom meetings. You can’t always abandon the idle busyness, but you can pay attention and use the time well. If you’re stuck in traffic or waiting on hold, use the time for prayer. Pray for the other people around you. Focus in on where you can see and gather God’s grace to share with others.
Wednesday, March 2: “…Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he….” (Jl 2:12-18)
Every time I read these words from Joel, a song by a favorite singer, David Wilcox, comes to mind. It’s called “Hard Part,” and I like to imagine Jesus singing it, promising to take on even the hardest parts of our hearts: “You think your shame and deep disgrace is more than I can bear. But you can go to your darkest place and I will meet you there. ‘Cause I’m strong enough to take it and I know what you’ve been through. You’ve got a whole heart. Give me the hard part. I can love that too.” (David Wilcox, 2006) I invite you on this Ash Wednesday to listen to this song and to share it with anyone you know who might be struggling with shame, rejection, or depression. Open your heart to these words if that person is you (Skip the ads!)
Today’s Provision: Invite God in. Do you think everything needs to be neat and tidy to invite God into your heart? Trust me, in the history of humanity, God’s hung out in some rough places! In fact, once God comes in, it is easier to begin clearing out the overgrowth, the pain, the shame. God sees your whole heart; let God reside there too.
Thursday, March 3: “I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God,
heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. (Dt 30:15-20)
I’m dating myself here, but I remember as a young girl watching the epic movie, The Ten Commandments, with Charlton Heston as Moses. It was so big and dramatic with fire and plagues and lightning. There was no way around it — God was scar-ry! It was on me to make the right choices and hell to pay if I didn’t. No wonder it took me so long to get to know a loving, merciful God! But when it comes down to it, this idea of choosing life is a day-to-day, moment-to-moment decision rarely accompanied by dramatic events. Sure, we encounter big decisions in our lives, but most often, they unfold and bloom from the daily choices we’ve been making all along.
Today’s Provision: Choose life. What would it be like if you started each morning with the declarative statement: “I am going to choose life today?” What if you looked at your everydays with an eye to what is life-giving, both for you and for others? One way to choose life: choose mercy. Forgive yourself when you fail. Forgive others.
Friday, March 4: “Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?” (Is 58:1-9a)
I love how God’s frustration is portrayed in Isaiah. I’m always tempted to add the word, “Hel-lO?!” at the end of this verse! I wonder how much of it is actually Isaiah’s impatience! Of course, he goes on to tell the people what God really wants to see: “…Setting free the oppressed…Sharing bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked…Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed.” What’s this wound he’s talking about?
Today’s Provision: Healing: I think what God is referring to is the wound of sin, and that dramatic sacrifices and self-punishment are not going to heal that wound the way reaching out to others can. Psychologically, reaching out allows us to focus on something or someone other than ourselves. Spirituality, we are blessed by the Spirit’s comfort when we comfort or forgive the other. What will you do today to free and shelter the oppressed, feed and clothe those in need? (A caveat: if your own woundedness is still raw or profound, don’t ignore your own needs in favor of someone “more” wounded; the best healer is a “wounded healer,” healed enough of their own pain to throw a lifeline to others. Look for someone like that to accompany you.)
Saturday, March 5: “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday; Then the LORD will guide you always and…renew your strength…” (Is 58:9b-14)
A great passage to end this first week. It reflects the lead-in to our theme this Lent, looking for ways to brighten our lives and strengthen us for the journey. Limit negative talk, accusation, and malice. Serve others in need. Do so out of love, not obligation, or a desire for recognition. Show mercy. Treat others with dignity. Be a channel for the Spirit, i.e., get yourself, your ego, and your expectations out of the way so that God can guide you and renew your strength.
Today’s Provision: Remove from your midst oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech!
No, this doesn’t mean we have to move to a cave somewhere! Have you chosen a fast for this Lent? How about limiting your intake of the general newsfeed? False accusations and malicious speech are the norm anymore. So without being “Polly Annas” about the state of the world, let’s try to fast as much as we can from the things that only serve to bring us down. Let’s feast on good news stories—they are out there. (Take a look at GNN—Good News Network.) Lighten up the gloom!