Each and every one of us know something about the wilderness; what it means to be lost from time to time, what it is to grieve, what it means to wander aimlessly in the darkness. And, like I said last week, the wilderness, and wandering through it from time to time, is an important part of the journey. But I think it’s easy to say that none of us want to stay there forever; none us wants to grieve endlessly or suffer needlessly.
So, bearing this in mind, as we begin the second week of our Lenten journey, I think it’s important to look for a way out of the wilderness. And we can do this by selecting a practice to well help us to begin to clear a space for discernment, for healing; for new growth and renewal. This week is about clearing a space to sit in the presence of the Sacred.
It’s kinda like starting a new garden. As the snow continues to melt, and spring eventually replaces winter, I intend to expand my garden… again. And like last spring, there’s a lot of work to be done. I must remove the grass, till the soil, add compost, and build a fence. And all of these things need to be finished within a short window of time if I am to plant anything in that new garden space. Now, it’s been my experience that my plans for garden expansion have often been too lofty. I am, well let’s say, lee-than-patient when it come to my gardening projects. In reality, the process of expanding my garden will begin this spring, but I probably won’t see any produce until a year from this fall. A new garden takes patients and discipline.
Now, this concept can also be applied to Lent. Lent inspires patients and discipline. For generations we have been asked to “give something up” for Lent. Chocolate or pop or some other vice is given up as a sign of discipline, of faithfulness to God, and the beginning of the process of clearing one’s heart and mind in order to repent. And while that’s not necessary a bad thing, in recent years I think we’ve come to understand that “taking something on” is perhaps a more effective way to honor this sense of introspection that Lent inspires. When we “take on” some sort of spiritual discipline it challenges us to think or feel in a new way, rather than just miss something we enjoy for six weeks.
So, what does “taking-on a discipline” look like? Well, in the study that this sermon series is based upon, there are six suggested Lenten practices. The first of these practices is Daily Prayer or Meditation. This is one I’ve referred to before. Daily prayer or meditation asks us to set aside some time each day and clear a space to sit quietly in the presence of God. Some people like to read a devotional or Scripture passages, while others prefer to simply be still. Whatever works for you!
Now, the second practice isn’t unrelated to the prayer and meditation: it’s a Media Fast. A media fast involves abstaining from watching TV, listening to music, or even reading for a prescribed amount of time. Say, 7 to 9 pm each day. In my mind, this clears the space to sit in the presence of God.
Remember now, the invitation here is to choose one or perhaps two of these practices, not to try and master them all. The third alternative is Reflective Walking. This practice, like the first two, provides you with the opportunity to intentionally spend time with God, except this third practice involves motion, movement, and a connection with nature.
The fourth choice is Art. Painting, sculpting, drawing, and pottery are just a few examples. If the arts interest you, consider using your set-aside time to engage in a creative activity. By understanding creativity as a channel for God’s on-going act of creation, you’re letting God’s energy flow into the world through your art.
The fifth suggest practice is Journaling. A daily practice of writing can also help you engage God more deeply. Journaling as a spiritual practice may involve simply writing your thoughts and feeling out or perhaps it may take the form of writing letters or prayers to God.
Now, the final suggested spiritual practice falls a bit outside the box: Community Service. If your spiritual life leads you to engage with your community in a new or innovative way, this is perhaps the path your Lenten discipline is calling you to take.
So, there you go, six suggestions for cultivating a deeper relationship with God, perhaps you can think of others? There are no limits here and no wrong answers, only your desire to move closer to the Divine; to emerge from the wilderness and begin to clear a space for God in your everyday life.
But what does all this have to do with the Prophet Joel?
Well, remember Joel said that God wants us “to return with all our hearts, – with fasting, weeping, and sorrow.” In other words, we’re invited to look for God in our presence with more than just our eyes or our minds; we are to return to God with all of our being, warts and all, weeping or sad, and we are asked to do this through spiritual practices. That’s what the “fasting” part is all about.
But Joel doesn’t stop there, God says, “tear your hearts and not your clothing.” Remember now, in that day when a person was grieving or lamenting, they would tear an article of clothing that they were wearing as a sign of their despair. But Joel is reminding us that there is something beyond lament, beyond the pain and suffering; and that something is God’s grace.
Joel goes on to say, “God is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive.” And I don’t know about you, but I need to find a way to be in the presence of God’s grace every day of my life! I constantly stand in need of God’s compassion and patients, love and forgiveness. And I need to symbolically “tear my heart” everyday so that it may become open to God’s Justice for all people, no matter what country they come from, or what language they speak, or who they choose to love, or what religion they choose to practice; and I need to open my heart every day to God’s Environmental Justice, the responsibility of humanity for the care for this earth, it’s forests and animals, it’s air and water and land. And finally, I need to slow down, and open my heart to the presence of God so that it may be exposed to the Peace that Paul says, surpassed all understanding.”
Do you see what I’m saying here? The tearing of one’s heart, the opening of one’s spirit to the Divine presence, goes beyond my meditation time in my living room. Being the presence of God naturally instills within us the desire and the will and the courage to practice God’s ways of Justice and accept God’s deep abiding peace. This is the blessing that Joel says, “God will lead behind.”
My prayer for all of us as we continue this journey, is that we will find and share God’s blessing in whatever form that blessing may take.
May it be so. Amen & amen.
Sarah Parsons A Clearing Season (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2005) pgs. 107-108