What We Need Is Here: An Invitation to the Lenten Season
Katie Harmon McLaughlin of Independence, MO, USA
Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. -Daniel 9:3
Walking through Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert, I gaze out at the vast, dusty expanse. Occasional cacti, palm trees, and the famous Joshua trees themselves are scattered throughout the landscape. Towering rock formations beckon from the horizon. Growing up in the densely wooded, rolling hills of Kentucky, I am in unfamiliar territory. The desert astounds and frightens me. It feels exposed, rugged, unrelenting, and captivating with a different kind of beauty than the landscape that formed me. The land, at first gaze, seems completely inhospitable. A trip to the park visitor center and a keen eye on the trail reveal that a surprising number of creatures and vegetation actually thrive in these conditions. I am a visitor in this stunning and unfamiliar place, so I hike with a heart in awe and then return to what is familiar.
Throughout scripture, some of the most important, transformational moments for our spiritual ancestors happened in wilderness places. The wilderness was a place people were driven to enter in exile, transition, and discernment. Ours seems to be a wilderness time. Many are observing that what once felt reliable, comfortable, familiar has slipped out of our grasp, and we can’t find a way to return to what we knew before. We are wandering in an unfamiliar landscape that at first gaze seems inhospitable. Like the Israelites, we cry out for sustenance in a strange land.
Each year as the season of Lent arrives, it seems to be an exact description of a prolonged condition experienced by many individuals and communities of faith. In his 2017 Address, President Veazey described this strange new landscape we find ourselves in, “The word of calling, hope, and possibility emerges from the reality that great change is happening in the world. And the rate of change is accelerating. This change includes how people view God, culture, finances, technology, politics, and religious institutions.”
We are quick to resist what we do not know, but there are gifts to discover here. We remember that the season of Lent is a critical formational opportunity to be steeped in the wisdom, depth, and integrity of Jesus that leads to new life. We try to bypass the wilderness places in our spiritual journey to get to the “good parts” like resurrection, but good things happen here, too! The Israelites receive enough manna for each day, the prophet Isaiah envisions a desert in full bloom, and after Jesus resists the temptations, he is comforted and cared for.
What if this Lent we rested for a while in this wilderness place to take a look around and appreciate what is here? What if we stopped trying to get through the wilderness to somewhere else and began to recognize the sacred abundance in unfamiliar places? What if being formed in the rhythm of Christ isn’t just about enduring the parts of the journey we’d rather avoid, but entering them deeply with an open and willing heart? Moving toward Jesus, the peaceful one, entails following him through the whole journey of transformation-and discovering in what we resist the deepest invitations to new life we have been seeking.
The poet Wendell Berry proclaims, “What we need is here.” This is my Lenten prayer this year. I am going to take a break from being on my way to somewhere better and rest a while in an unknown land. Appreciating where I am for what it is, I echo Berry’s invitation, “…and we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.”
Sit for a while in this wilderness place and join me. Take in the expansive view and let your soul settle in. Rest your gaze into what is unfamiliar and find delight in unexpected beauty. Notice the creatures, plants, flowers that call this place home. Ask yourself what you really need. Take delight in discovering what is enough. Find life in the Lenten wilderness.
I surrender into your love, O God.
Lenten Spiritual Practices
Moving Toward the Peaceful One
As Jesus was nearing the final days of his life, he wept over the city and proclaimed, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:41-42).What are the things that make for peace in our lives, communities, and around the world? During the Lenten season, spend time in silent refection or journaling each day to notice: Am I moving toward Jesus, the peaceful One? Pay attention to your attitudes, actions, and relationships this day. When did you most embody the peaceful One in your daily living? When were your thoughts or actions contrary to the peace of Jesus Christ? How might Jesus, the peaceful One, who is always near to you, be inviting you to draw nearer to him through your daily living?
Fasting and Giving-$40 in 40 Days
A Lenten fast gives us an opportunity to make space in our lives so that God can live in and through us. It’s a time to evaluate what we hunger for most and what we consume. This year, we’ve been invited to tithe as a spiritual practice by setting aside $40 during the 40 days of Lent. If you are participating, pay attention today to the dollar you have given. What might you have done with that dollar otherwise? How does Lenten generosity invite you to reflect on what is “enough” in your life? Who might you invite to join you in this practice? How might your gift be magnified by the many others responding to the same call?
You can make your $40 offering anytime during the Lenten season online or through your offering envelope for Worldwide Mission Tithes.
Today’s Prayer for Peace
Engage in a daily practice of praying for peace in our world. Click here to read today’s prayer and be part of this practice of peace.