“This is a bidding to God, asking for God’s aid in our own heart’s being broken open to the needs of the world that surrounds us, a world that God so loves.”
“Being” in Lent
Jesus shows us remarkably little interest in people’s spiritual lives. He is, however, passionate about people’s lives – who, what, how they are in toto: their body, mind, and soul. Jesus promises to be with us always, wherever and however we are. If we are going to be present to Jesus’ real presence – and not just virtually present – we need to find practices for “being there,” living life as an ongoing invitation from God. Whether we work, or walk, or weep, or wait, God is with us. Many of us need periodic reminders of this truth. Lent can be a great help to retrieve, recover, redeem what is most important to us, yet may have gotten lost along the way.
The season of Lent begins at the Ash Wednesday liturgy (this year on February 13th) with a prayer derived from Psalm 51: “Create and make in us contrite hearts . . .” The English word, “contrite,” comes from the Latin, contritus, which means, “thoroughly crushed.” The sense of the word is not about a broken heart, but rather, a heart broke open. It’s a double metaphor. This is a bidding to God, asking for God’s aid in our own heart’s being broken open to the needs of the world that surrounds us, a world that God so loves. It is also a prayer to retrieve, recover, and redeem what is most important – in this case, to be given a like-new heart. This is not a heart bypass procedure. Rather, this is a thoroughfare right through our heart – spiritual angioplasty – with every vessel and valve completely unclogged, pumping afresh with the light and life and love of God.
Jane Shaw’s A Practical Christianity is a great aid for this Lenten endeavor. We do not need help making life more difficult than it already is. She knows this. Jane is encouraging, faithful, and streetwise, helping us hone a Lenten practice that brings into a graceful harmony our relationship with our own self, with others, and with God, as we anticipate the gift of joy at Eastertide. She has forensic insight about rejection and disappointment, resentment and bitterness; she shares delight with poetry and stories full of wonder; she extols the grace of forgiveness and the redemption of failure; she addresses the problem of certainty and the liberation of paradox; she helps us claim the here-and-now and, at the same time, look to the glory of life to come, “life after dust.”
The name of the church season, Lent, does not have a religious etymology. Lent literally means “long days.” The word comes from a prehistoric West Germanic root signifying spring, an allusion to the lengthening of days at this time of year in the northern hemisphere. The season of Lent can be very helpful in clearing out debris in our soul’s closet as we prepare for Easter. On the other hand, the actual length of Lent – 40 days – can become tedious, onerous, fraught with well-intended disciplines gone amuck. Drawing on her own formation and practice, Jane Shaw proves to be a wonderful Lenten companion, a combination of sage, mentor, cheerleader, and spiritual mother.
Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE (Society of St. John the Evangelist) of Cambridge, Massachusetts wrote this Forward to Jane Shaw’s “A Practical Christianity: Meditations for the Season of Lent.” This simple book is ideal for Lenten study groups, combining poetry, art and music with the wisdom of scripture and theology to help pilgrims to make sense of faith, uncertainty and love in the context of everyday life. Five chapters, each with reflection questions, make it a perfect selection for a weekly study.
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