I realized that it’s only fitting that I started blogging again yesterday during Lent, because as history serves, Lent has lent (I just can’t help with the puns…you know Easter is on April Fools, right?!) a good portion of inspiration.
So I’ve compiled, just in time for Good Friday, a dose of Lenten posts for your contemplative reading.
I pray that this season has been meaningful and full for you and that you find so much comfort and hope and peace even at the sight of our wounded savior on the cross. May we linger on that cross and the grave with renewed passion and waiting and expectation of the hope to come on Easter Sunday. Amen.
Since Holy Week, I’ve been thinking about unconditional love.
Do you have someone in your life who loves you unconditionally, for whom you could do no wrong, or even if you did, every wrong would be and is forgivable? Do you have someone who knows all your faults and flaws and seems to love you the more for them? Do you know someone whose love for you is constant, not based on what you do or what you achieve, but comes from a seemingly endless and otherworldly source?
If so, how do you respond to such love?
As I continued to ponder unconditional love, it occurred to me that there seems to be but one human response to it, which is fear. When you discover that someone loves you unconditionally, you also discover that such love cannot be earned, achieved, or repaid, and it’s a scary feeling to find yourself forever indebted to another. That fear can turn toward denial and betrayal as we try to run as far away from such love as we can, in order that we can establish our own independence and find a life free from obligation or humility.
It’s what happened to Judas, Pilate, even to Peter.
But if we recognize our own humanity, our own futility, and instead of running, revel in the awe and wonder that such love exists, and turn to acceptance as opposed to denial, the only response to such love is praise.
We are not like the women at the tomb that morning who did not know that he had arisen and yet, faithfully returned. We are children of the promise, filled with the knowledge that his command to love one another at that fateful last supper would be fulfilled by his ultimate act of unconditional love on the cross.
We love because He first loved us. May we spend our lives pondering not only that love, but how to serve Him with a life full of praise.
I’m nearing the end of my Lenten devotional, Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, so besides needing another short book to fill the rest of April (any suggestions, guys?), I’m also finally starting to discover the meaning behind the curious title.
As Foster writes, “Joy is the end result of the Spiritual Disciplines’ functioning in our lives. God brings about the transformation of our lives through the Disciplines, and we will not know genuine joy until there is transforming work within us…Celebration comes when the common ventures of life are redeemed” (Foster 193).
Foster describes how we can’t take a shortcut to experiencing and exhibiting joy, but we can certainly experience joy through seeking God in prayer, confession, service, and worship, and it is God who is the source of this great gift.
That last line, “celebration comes when the common ventures of life are redeemed,” reminds me of a reflection I read this morning from Micha Boyett where she discusses the ordinary tasks of readying her two boys for school alongside the rather extraordinary miracle that Jesus does by turning water into wine. Boyett’s pastor described the miracle as Jesus “replacing the joy,” and then points to our own lives, saying, “Look where you’re frantic and that’s probably the place where you’re trying to find joy.”
But the challenge is that finding joy, requires little of us and so much of Jesus, that we often spend the better part of our days scouring and scrubbing only to miss the promise of the dirt, the simplicity, the ordinary holiness of our bent up, misshapen lives.
Foster goes onto discuss a spirit of carefree celebration where we rely completely on God, and experience radical joy through our trust in God’s greatness rather than ourselves. I look at the last few weeks and this controversy over World Vision’s decision and retraction for hiring gay staff in committed relationships, and I wonder, where is the joy? I look around me at churches working arduously and desperately to spawn last ditch ministries to save themselves, and I wonder, where is the joy? I look at each of us going about our busy lives, failing to truly see those in front of us, to listen, to love, and to rely on God and one another, and I don’t see strength or independence or carefree celebration, but fear and greed and angst.
I certainly don’t see joy.
The Church in America is in need of God’s joyful transformation. We need less of us and more of God, less of our will and more of God’s grace and love and mercy. And it’s only by way of the cross, that we are found by grace, and the we experience such true, unadulterated joy.
We don’t often think of Lent and the journey to the cross as a journey toward joy. We often place the story of Jesus turning water into wine and Jesus’ death on the cross in two completely different literary categories, but what if we are called to live out the whole of our faith as ordinary, yet joyful people? What if the transformation God enacts on the cross and in each one of us amounts to replacing the joy of humanity, and we’ve been missing something as we try so hard to just “get things right?”
We need look no further than our ordinary lives to answer the question, “where is the joy?”, and yet we struggle against what God has done for us. We need look no further than the cup of wine to remind us of both Jesus’ holy sacrifice and great joyous celebration. Let us accept the joyous transformation that Jesus brings to our lives, and let us live with great reliance on God, great grace for one another, and above all, great joy.
As I headed out to the canal path yesterday afternoon for my first run since the baby, I was dismayed to find that between winter and spring in New Jersey (and many other parts of the world) comes another less beloved season: the season of mud.
It seemed no sooner had the ground thawed that the bulldozers came to clear the path, pressing the treads of their tires deep into the fresh earth and leaving behind nothing but brown as far as the eye could see.
But as I plugged along, bemoaning the stark landscape and the thick frosting of mud quickly coating my tennis shoes, I caught a whiff of something fresh, crisp, and almost sweet. And as the smell of fresh, earthy mud wafted through my nostrils, I was reminded that beneath that brown soil lay roots, soon to be buds, soon to be new life.
I was reminded that we can’t have the new life without the dirt and the worms and the mud.
We often want to skip over the hard parts in life. In our spiritual lives, we want to be rid of the dark nights of the soul, the calls to accountability, the wandering in the desert. But it’s no accident that Easter falls at the end of the season of mud, which we call Lent, a season caked with sins that can’t be wiped clean unless we unveil them in the light of day.
In other words, while Lent is in many ways a personal and solitary journey of coming to grips with our own sin and the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross, it’s also a corporate season of sharing our joys, our fears, and our darkness, and of washing the dirt from one another’s feet, just as Christ first washed the feet of his disciples.
So as spring draws near and as we walk through this holy season of Lent together, I encourage you not to eschew the muddy bits of your life, but to let God and others behold that dirt, from which will spring new, eternal life. I encourage you to let Christ lift your muddy feet into his clean hands, and to anticipate the miracle of the cross to come.