Category Archives: Lent

Isaiah Sings A Lenten Song

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found;*

call upon him when he draws near.

[The Second Song of Isaiah (Is. 55:6-11)Book of Common Prayer, p. 86-87]

Whenever I pray the first part, the first line, there’s an obvious thought that comes along with it – something that could be put in parentheses and added to every Book of Common Prayer:

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found (which is always, every minute of every day);*

That God wants to be found by us is a no-brainer: God seeks discovery, a parent hiding in plain sight, waiting for us to open our eyes. God is constant and never truly beyond our reach.

But God doesn’t force a relationship. Constancy is not the same thing as insistence. We have the right to walk away, walk past, turn and head in another direction. We can refuse to reach out. We can stay put, hanging back from God’s presence rather than taking steps toward. Perhaps feeling we aren’t worthy of God’s love, afraid to admit our imperfections, embarrassed by needing the deep love that only God offers, we might not have the wherewithal to seek.

That’s why the second part is so important. Even with God’s presence with and for us a sure thing, our presence with and for God isn’t. So we have to act, to respond. God isn’t asking for much, just the simple act of calling a name. When we don’t have the courage, strength, wisdom, or energy to get up and look, we just have to call out. When we can’t see God through the darkness, we just need to speak. Even the faintest of whispers will do – God has drawn near enough to hear.

[For the full canticle, click Lent 2021 above.]

Perspective

With a pandemic redefining our daily reality, in light of the wisdom of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu found in The Book of Joy, at this time of remembering Christ’s crucifixion, maybe I can be brave enough, loving enough, and wise enough to…

[Window decal bought at Macro World, Portsmouth, NH]

What am I waiting for?

Metaphysical Exercise

With the need to keep social distance to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, and the need to get some exercise in relative isolation, my son and I decided to try a couple of the Audubon trails off Great Neck Road. A quarter of a mile out, we started passing parked cars – dozens of others had filled the parking lot and trails. We kept driving. Instead, we tried a trail through Minot Forest.

Within a dozen steps we were enveloped in the quiet of the trees. We walked this way and that, hiking uphill and down on narrow and wide trails, eventually finding a pond. Birds called, a breeze moved the tree tops, and light fell softly between branches – a hidden sanctuary less than a mile from Wareham center. I doubt we walked a tenth of the trails through the forest, so we’ll return soon and often. If not for the restrictions on the usual activities, I don’t know if we’d have ever found this soul soothing sanctuary.

Such an extraordinary revelation of beauty and nature reminds me of just how mysterious my little town is, and just how much there is left to explore – an exercise in spiritual awareness and humility that requires only a little time and legwork. What a beautiful way to care for body, mind, and soul.

Image by Jared Fredrickson

Another Brick…

They build walls and chimneys, provide paving materials for sidewalks and roads, and will get you to the Emerald City if they happen to be yellow. Thrown through a window, they make robbing the store a whole lot easier.  All these things are possible for a remarkably low price and a lot of hard work.

I’ve built a few things with old bricks I found in my backyard; I’ve done the same for the library learning garden with orphan bricks from projects completed long ago. Friday, I used up all but a couple of those library bricks to build a small garden bed. It’s off the broad side of the storage shed, and it’s for the groundhog who lives under it.  Two hours of digging, putting bricks in place, and spreading garden soil, manure, and compost brought it into being. What was just a patch of scraggly grass in sandy soil is now a place that will feed the groundhog and his squirrel and rabbit neighbors.

Without those discarded, forgotten bricks, the garden bed wouldn’t survive the first Spring rainfall. Small and discarded no more, they make a life giving garden possible.

…such wonderful possibilities to come from finding what was lost…

photos by Jared Fredrickson, March 2019

Ash Wednesday: Remember you will die

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Some day, this body I call my own will lose the life and breath that keeps it from falling into decay. My season of life will end as surely as every season does. I will become ashes and dust. I have an appointment with Death, minus the day, date, and time particulars. It may not happen tomorrow, next month, or even in the next twenty years. The cause of it remains unknown, but the certainty of it cannot be denied: I have an expiration date.

Will my impending return to ashes and dust lead me to appreciate every numbered day I have? Will fear of death goad me into fleeing  mortality’s reality  through cosmetic surgery and expensive drugs offering a return to youth? How will I number my days, and what do I want their sum to mean?

This Ash Wednesday, I ask myself: if my God given life is a blessing, is there also a blessing in my God given death?

Lord, my days are numbered. May they add up to something holy. Amen.

Somebody done somebody wrong

Reading: Matthew 5:39

Another has done me wrong? Let him see to it.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.25

[Holiday and Hanselman, The Daily Stoic, New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2016, p. 66]

The quote has a few more lines, taken from a larger writing. Without a context, these words wouldn’t make any sense to me. What does he mean, let him see to it?

Hanselman and Holiday put these lines in a larger framework – controlling how we respond to people who have caused us harm. Another way to say this: Somebody done me wrong? He/She has to live with it (not me).

In one sense, this isn’t true; if someone burns down my house or crashes into my car, I have to deal with the damage. Real consequences fall to me because someone else behaved badly. In another sense, it is absolutely true; my inner life doesn’t have to suffer because of this event – unless I choose to hold on to anger and resentment because of the damage. The one who caused the damage has to square himself/herself with the actions and results.

This is the kicker: if I choose to let go of any negative feelings the damage created, I choose to forgive the one who caused it. To save my inner life the turmoil and damage that resentment and revenge bring, I cannot exact revenge. My freedom comes when I free the one who hurt me.

There are always consequences to damage and hurt  – breaks need to be healed, reality restored. But whether the souls of the people involved are blighted by the experience is optional. I can choose to let it all go. The one who done me wrong? He/She will see to it with a better chance to refrain from harm in the future if I refrain from returning damage for damage.

But I’d be kidding myself if I said it was easy. Wise, yes, but not easy.

A Closer Look

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It’s the second half of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday stand between me and Easter – the path through the dark woods of my soul. I didn’t grow up in churches that observed these dark days; we went from Palm Sunday to Easter, sometimes with a Wednesday Bible study of the crucifixion, sometimes not. The sanctuary and Sunday school room crosses were always empty: why would anyone put the risen Jesus back on the cross? The resurrection already happened and there was no going back.

I understand why my childhood churches had no crucifixes, and why they emphasized celebration and victory rather than the suffering of Jesus in the garden and the grisly way he died. I can’t say that the people in those churches were any more or less faithful, any kinder or colder – the path of faith runs through all neighborhoods. But I do think something of the human condition was skipped over rather than faced – not about Jesus, but about the rest of humanity. While I hate to admit it, I doubt I’d do any better than the flawed, fragile people who stood by while Jesus died. Most everyone ran away, avoiding the whole scene. A few women and John the beloved disciple managed to stay and hear the final few words from the cross. This reveals more about myself than I usually care to see or admit. I’m no better than anyone else, and I’m just as likely to run away as anyone else. Given the right circumstances, just enough fear for my life, I would betray Jesus, too.

Holy Week isn’t a time to indulge in self loathing: it’s a time to take a long, hard look at myself – faults, strengths, and the whole mixed bag I call my inner and outer life. If I’m honest about what I see, I’ll ask for God to hold my hand as I walk this world. If I’m not, I just might fool myself into thinking I can make the walk alone.

Take my hand, O Lord, and walk with me through these dark days and nights. I need you. Amen.

Eyes To See

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

It’s a beautiful Easter morning here, with sunny skies, chirping birds, and daffodils blooming in my back yard. My two cats move gracefully on the window sills, and the goldfish swim in their tank. Our visiting golden retriever, Montana, wiggles in joy when I get up. The house is quiet and I have time to pray.

Lent is done, and it is time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. I won’t find him in the graveyard, in a crypt, in an urn. He is in the world of the living, not the land of the dead. He has passed through death into life. He finds me, just as he found Mary, usually looking for him in the wrong place, assuming he is out of reach.

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (Which means teacher.).John 20:11-16

Sometimes Jesus looks like the gardener, sometimes he looks like a science teacher. He appears as a cook, a banker, and a homeless man. He can be found on every street in every town. I encounter him every day. But do I recognize him? Do I know I’m in the presence of Jesus? This Easter, I pray for eyes to see, and a heart that recognizes Jesus when he speaks to me.

Love

By contrast, the action of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

What wondrous love is this, o my soul?

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. I Corinthinans 13:8

It ends with love, and love never ends. Agape in Greek. The agape kind of love is a choice and a way of living with God and neighbor in this world…

Love that is a fruit/action of the Spirit is meaning good things for others and working toward those good things. It involves sacrifice – dedicating time, talent, and resources to foster someone else’s life. This love is freely given, not the result of coercion or oppression. It enlarges the spirit and leads to a better sense of self. This love is a choice, not something forced. This kind of love is possible for us because we have been loved this way since we came into this world. This is how God loves us, and it’s how we are meant to love one another.

Often, we don’t love each other or God this way because we are afraid of loss and death. To avoid loss of self we strike out against love, hurting ourselves and our neighbor. We put Jesus on the cross because we fear the divine love revealed in his words and actions.

My mother talked to me about this years ago. She believed that many rejected the life of faith because they were afraid that God would ask them to die. Just like Peter, we denyJesus because we don’t want to die. We love life and are afraid to lose it. This is true.

But there is another truth at work here: we run away from Jesus because we know he’ll ask us to live. Living for Jesus is loving our neighbor and ourself, seeking and finding God in all people and things. I don’t know what we are more afraid of: losing life or loving life so much that death is just the doorway to the love of Christ. The love without end, Amen.

Pride

The demon of pride conducts the soul to its worst fall. It urges it: not to admit God’s help, and to believe that the soul is responsible for its own achievements, and to disdain the brethren as fools because they do not all see this about it. This demon is followed by: anger and sadness and the final evil, utter insanity and madness, and visions of mobs of demons in the air. (Evagrius Pontificus, 345-399, The Eight (Bad)Thoughts, found at Early Church Texts, public page, www.earlychurchtexts.com)

I didn’t come into this world self-delivered, and I didn’t grow without help. My life is connected to other lives – family, friends, mentors, and other practitioners of my craft. I build on the knowledge and work of others, adding mine to it along with every other person on the planet. While I write the reflections on this blog, I did not create the language. While my reflections aren’t anyone else’s, the help and encouragement of others was and is necessary. If I think otherwise, I kid myself.

The delusion pride plunges my spirit into is much worse than trying to claim full credit for my achievements. Pride puts me in a universe whose center is me, a creation all about me and all for me. My soul doesn’t need God’s help and I can do just fine all by myself. Dependency is for weaker souls, and it is only their blindness that allows others to question my self-efficacy and my self-sufficiency. Others may need God, but not me – a lie I want to believe. Pride pushes me to remake God in my image – the final idolatry.

Living such a false reality is exhausting, though. Other people break into my reality with their own, and the Spirit hovers over me in spite of my bad behavior;  God and my neighbors call me back from the brink, returning me to myself and to this God-given and God-sustained creation. My soul settles down and I can breathe again – no longer center of the universe, and no longer alone. It is more than enough: it is grace.

What about the mobs of demons that Evagrius writes about? Are they real? Oh, yes. I believe it’s the face of everyone else and the presence of the Spirit, distorted by the utter insanity and madness that is the reality lived in pride. The self-created false world is hell.