Tag Archives: Lent

Lent-God-spirituality

Seek light

One of the gifts of retreat is that in the slowing down and stepping away from daily life and routines, it is easier to pay attention to what God is stirring up inside me, to notice what I notice and to take time to reflect on what I notice. It is the practice of mindfulness, and quiet days of retreat offer ample time to pay attention to God.

Coming back from retreat and stepping back into life challenges me to find ways to slow down during the day and continue to notice what is catching my attention.

I once heard someone explaining Lectio Divina using the image of the sun shimmering on the ocean—the way that glistening is difficult to miss and can be mesmerizing.Lent-God-spiritualityWatching the sun rise over water is an image that returns to me repeatedly. I don’t take many pictures, but whenever I am blessed to see the sun rising over water, out comes my camera. Perhaps because it is such a concrete example of light breaking through the darkness.

Praying with Isaiah 58:1-9 the other day, the phrase, then your light shall break forth like the dawn, brought to mind many times I have watched the sun rise over a wide expanse of water.

Every sunrise is different, depending on the clouds, but every sunrise speaks to me of potential and blessing. Every morning brings a chance to try again, to start over. Watching the darkness recede and the sky fill with light reminds me of that gift of hope that God gives me again and again.

If yesterday wasn’t the best day, if I was judgmental or critical or impatient, God gives me another chance today to do things differently, to try another way.Lent-God-spiritualityTell people there’s another way, was something my friend Jim instructed me during the weeks before he died. The other way he was referring to was one of trust and hope, rather than fear and despair. His other way meant living fully and thanking God for everything. In the face of the death, he believed in life.

Words and images from that time of Jim’s illness and death are coming back to me this Lent. I am doing something new, (Isaiah 43:19) God is telling me again this Lent. What that is, I have yet to discover. I just need to pay attention, stay open, look toward the light and be ready to say yes.Lent-God-spirituality

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Lent-God-spirituality

Being open to the presence of God

Sometimes my liturgical seasons seem to get their wires crossed—I experience Lenten contrition in August or Easter joy during Advent. This year, I am resonating more with Advent than with Lent.

Advent begins with the image of the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2). That is what I am experiencing as Lent begins—walking in light. The darkness of the grief that has gripped me for the past six years seems to have lifted, and my spirit feels light and free. Instead of donning sackcloth and ashes, I feel like laughing and dancing.

Joy and gratitude have taken up residence; contentment reigns. For as long as this feeling lasts, I want to enjoy it.Lent-God-spiritualitySo, about Lent.

True confession: I am addicted to chocolate and rarely go a day without it.Lent-God-spiritualityOne year, just after college, my housemate and I gave up chocolate and alcohol for Lent. I thought giving up alcohol would be more difficult, but it was not. At the grocery store, I repeatedly noticed candy bars on the checkout conveyor belt. How did that happen? I would wonder, knowing full well that I must have put them there, even though I was completely unaware that I had done it. Giving up alcohol for Lent? No problem. But chocolate? No way.

I have a desk drawer at work designated as the snack drawer—it is stocked with chocolate in a variety of forms—granola bars with chocolate chips, chocolate covered almonds and straight-up chocolate candy. It is not a secret stash, and anyone is welcome to dip into this treasure trove of sweets.Lent-God-spiritualityOne Lent, a staff person said she wanted to give up chocolate and asked if I would be willing to join her. She wanted me to empty my snack drawer because she feared the temptation would be too great for her. I explained that I give things up for Lent to become holier—or at least more focused on God—and giving up chocolate would only make me grumpier.

My fasting for Lent tends to be more about giving up being judgmental or being critical or being impatient—more attitudes than actual things. Changing my attitudes seems to have more potential to be transformational in my spiritual journey than changing my eating habits.

My Lenten reflection book encourages making Lent “a penitential season,” and says the purpose of penitential practices (prayer, fasting and almsgiving) is “to open oneself more fully to the presence of God.”

This Lent, I want to fast from judgmentalism, scarcity, stinginess and fear—and feast on  abundance, joy, trust, generosity and gratitude. This Lent, I want to bask in light and live in freedom.Lent-God-spirituality

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Change my heart

Recently, I have spoken about my work at a cancer support center to several Optimist Clubs, and every time I hear the Optimist Creed, this line stands out:

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

One of my Lenten plans was to see the people in front of me. Sometimes I don’t actually see the person standing in front of me, but rather I see a version of that person which is based on my past experiences with him or her, and I know that is not always accurate.

Instead, I want to try to see as God sees—to see the potential in each person, to see the best in each one. I want to be less critical and more hopeful about the people in my life.spirituality-prayer-lentUsually, though, I form an impression of someone when we meet. If someone is prickly, I tend to think, “This is a prickly person.” I can then find it difficult to change that initial impression, to let go of my expectations that someone will act in a particular way. I can easily devote attention and energy to the faults of others while conveniently overlooking my own. spirituality-prayer-lentI know, though, that when I get a glimpse of myself as God sees me, it is a better version of me. From God’s perspective, I am capable of being my best self—loving, forgiving, accepting and merciful. When others see the best in me, and let me know that, I am more likely to be that person (or at least be more aware when I am not). The ability of others to see the best in me helps me to grow into the person God created me to be.

God invites me to focus on improving myself, on fixing my own faults before I start looking at others.spirituality-prayer-lentWhen I am aware of my own flaws, I am less likely to be critical of others. When I remember that I grow and change, it is easier to believe that others also grow and change—and also easier to see their potential.

Practicing seeing as God sees also makes me more compassionate. Seeing the potential in others and allowing them the space to grow into their potential reminds me we are all on the path to discovering who God created us to be. Hoping that I and others can live up to the vision God has for us shifts my vision from pessimism to optimism; God’s vision is always hopeful and expansive.spirituality-prayer-lentEvery person who stands before me has the potential to become all that God intended. My desire is to accept the people who come into my life without criticism or judgment and to imagine them as their best selves, the selves God created them to be.

 

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Seeing as a spiritual practice

“You have sensitive eyes,” my eye doctor once told me.

He was referring to the fact that I came to see him whenever my vision changed—even the tiniest variation in my eyesight would send me in to get new lenses. He told me that most people lived with blurry vision for a while before coming in for a new set of glasses. But not me; I have sensitive eyes.

His observation came back to me after reading a comment on one of my blog posts about how I seemed to see deeper meaning in everyday objects, how I can look beyond the physical characteristics of something and make a spiritual connection.

For Lent, I am praying to see with sensitive eyes. I want to see with the eyes of my heart (Ephesians 1:18).

When I was in my twenties, I worked in an office with nine men; I was the only woman. My emotional state at the time was like a roller coaster. Which me would show up for work on any given day? Happy me? Angry me? Depressed me? Sad me? It was anyone’s guess.spiritual-practice-Lent

One day, when depressed me showed up for work, one of the men stopped in front of my desk, paused and then said, “Do you know that your moods affect the entire office?”

“What?” I asked, incredulously. I thought I lived in a bubble, that I was the only one affected by my volatile emotional state. I really did not know anyone else noticed.

“You are the first person we meet when we walk through that door, and when you are in a bad mood, it affects all of us,” he explained.

Oh, those poor men, I thought. They had been enduring my unpredictable mood swings. My roller-coaster ride must have been like a ride through a house of horror for them.

But, having been made aware, I decided to change. I would park my moodiness at the door and enter the office even-keeled. It took effort, but over time, I became much more stable.spiritual-practice-LentOne problem, though, was that some of the men had the image of the old me so firmly planted in their minds that they could not see the new me. They never really trusted that the old me would not reappear, so they never let their guard down long enough to get to know the new me.

It was a wonderful lesson about my own potential to grow and about allowing other people to grow—to expect the best in myself and in others, even if I am repeatedly disappointed.

That lesson has stayed with me, and I strive to be even-keeled. I also remind myself that I am not the same person I was yesterday—and neither is anyone else.

I want to be open to the people I meet every day and to look for the best in them. I want to practice seeing with sensitive eyes, with the eyes of my heart.spiritual-practice-Lent

 

The five freedoms

The yellowed edges on the single sheet of lined paper indicated it was old. This hand-written page, entitled The Five Freedoms, had spent years tucked away in a file folder. I don’t remember writing it or filing it away, but it is in my handwriting and in my cabinet.

A Google search indicated that author and psychotherapist Virginia Satir had written The Five Freedoms. I must have gotten them while I was in therapy or a self-help group during my thirties, when I was seeking to reconcile with my past and create a different future. The Five Freedoms are:

  1. The freedom to see and hear what is here instead of what should be, was or will be.
  2. The freedom to say what I feel and think, instead of what I should.
  3. The freedom to feel what I feel, instead of what I ought.
  4. The freedom to ask for what I want, instead of waiting for permission.
  5. The freedom to take risks in my own behalf, instead of choosing to be only “secure” and not rocking the boat.

Reflecting on these Five Freedoms reminded me of an exercise we once did in l’Arche at an assistants’ meeting. The leader read a list of ten or twelve statements, each related to some aspect of our personalities. After we listened to the list being read, we had to write down what we heard, what we remembered. Then the list was reread. We were then told that the items we missed, the ones that did not register with us, are the items we need to work on to incorporate into our lives. I remember that one of mine was about speaking what I believed, number two of the Five Freedoms.

I still struggle with it; my inner critic is powerful and loud.

Shoulds and oughts run through my mind, interfering with my freedom to feel, think, want and speak. I still find myself censuring what I say and doubting what I think and want.

I tend to be a fairly direct person, so holding my tongue can be a good thing for me. But, often I don’t speak, not because I am afraid of offending someone, but because I am afraid of being judged. Even when I figure out what I think and feel, I am often reluctant to say.

It is ironic that I have done a lot of public speaking about my nonprofit work, work that is based on beliefs and visions that have often challenged my audience. In those situations, I learned to put on the armor of God and stand firm in my convictions (Ephesians 6:10-18). But I have not yet gotten completely comfortable in wearing that armor in my personal life.

I have recently been pondering the story of Jesus calling Lazarus to “come out” and then instructing those standing nearby to “unbind him.” (John 11:43-44) Moving beyond shoulds and oughts is a way for me to come out and be free.

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Anna Woofenden, 2014

 

Pins in my journal

Seeking a new knitting pattern, my sister suggested I look on Pinterest. I had signed up for Pinterest several years ago, but found the site overwhelming. Things seem to appear and then disappear for no discernable reason. It was beyond me.

“You have to create boards and then pin things you like on the boards,” my sister counseled. “Otherwise, you may never find them again,” she added. That had certainly been my experience.

So I created a board (called “Knitting”) and began pinning patterns I liked.

Once demystified, I can now visit Pinterest with confidence. The secret is to recognize when something catches my attention—even briefly—and “pin” it to a board.

This method of adding things of interest to Pinterest boards reminds me of praying lectio divina—that prayer method that invites me to notice the words or phrases in Scripture that catch my attention and then to spend some time in prayer with the images and ideas generated by those words. My journal is where I “pin” my Scripture ideas.

I write in my journal every morning, reviewing the previous day and recording thoughts and actions. I also record night dreams and day dreams, and I write whatever catches my attention during my morning prayer. At the beginning of the year, I write plans and goals for the year, and at the end of the year, I re-read my journals from that year. Before meeting with my spiritual director each month, I read what I have written since my last meeting with her.

I interact with my journal frequently. It is much more low-tech than Pinterest, but it is the system that works for me.

It would be easy for me to get hooked on Pinterest. Each click leads to something else of interest and is an invitation to keep exploring and collecting pins.

I think Scripture is like that, too. Each reading invites me to go deeper and collect bits of insight and wisdom. Each reading leads me to a deeper understanding of how to be more loving and forgiving. Spending time in prayer reminds me of God’s love and offers direction for my life.

Yesterday, before I met with my spiritual director, I reviewed my journal for the last month, and noticed a theme of growth. The words of Scripture that caught my attention had to do with watered gardens and gurgling springs (Isaiah 58:11) and cultivating the ground (Luke 13:8). On several occasions, I had written about moving beyond shoulds and oughts and being the person God created me to me—no matter how outrageous she may be.

The words of Scripture encourage me to keep growing, and give me hope that God does really call me His “delight” (Isaiah 62:4). I want to be that person—God’s delight—and keep “pinning” God’s promises in my journal and on my heart.

More mercy

The experience of mercy, the priest explained, is what Pope Francis hopes for this jubilee year.  Not the definition or theology, not talking about mercy or learning more about it, but experiencing it and living it. The presentation by a Franciscan priest on Pope Francis and the Year of Mercy helped me better understand this jubilee year.

The priest told us that the Pope had a transformational experience of mercy when he was a teen and that Caravaggio’s painting The Calling of St. Matthew was connected to that experience. The priest talked about experiencing mercy through the loving look of God, that look that melts one’s heart, the look artists try to capture.

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Caravaggio is a bit dark for my taste; I prefer Tanner’s Annunciation as a portrait of God’s light breaking through.The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

But looking at Caravaggio’s painting reminded me of my trip to Rome and a sculpture in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria—the Ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila by Bernini.

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This piece of art reminds me of one of my own transformational experiences of mercy.

It happened about thirty years ago as I was praying in the convent chapel at my parish, lost in contemplation. Then I saw myself in an old, European cathedral, the kind I had visited in Spain a few years earlier—thick, stone walls and large, open spaces. I was lying
on the floor and could feel the cold, hard tiles on my hands and cheek.

Church in spain

As I lay prostrate, the floor began to shift, and then I was being lifted up. The section of floor that was holding me became the hand of God, and God assured me that I was safe.

That was not the first time I had felt the hand of God lifting me up—that happened when I was just eight years old—but it is the memory I return to again and again when I want to recall God’s mercy toward me. It is the experience that melts my heart and makes me want to reach out to others to remind them that God holds and loves each of us, and that we are safe.

That vision encourages me to be merciful, to take risks with forgiveness and acceptance, to let go of my need to be right and allow others the chance to be heard.

In his presentation on Pope Francis and the Year of Mercy, the priest noted that we live in a culture which is more focused on people getting what they deserve and how antithetical that is to mercy. If each of us got what we deserved, he said, there would be no hope, because we all make mistakes, we all sin; most of us just don’t get caught. But when we are caught, we pray for mercy.

Experiencing more mercy by focusing on God’s love and forgiveness—and then being more merciful—that will be my Lenten prayer.