I realize at times like this how much my spiritual practices depend upon the seasonal weather of our state as I cannot imagine entering into the somber acts of reflection and repentance asked of us during Lent if I lived in say, Hawaii. Hawaii is on my mind right now because I recently learned that the Wesley Foundation of the University of Hawaii is looking for a new pastor / director. I can’t pretend it isn’t tempting…
I took a few hours after last week’s big snowfall to go snow shoeing at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. I wanted to hike the 2 miles on their “Ridge Run Trail” up to the highest point in the County where you can look out over the Kalamazoo River, across a valley and see Borgess Hospital several miles in the distance. I laughed when I brushed off the trail sign as it read something to the effect of “Beautiful groomed trailed, easy to moderate hiking, full of wildflowers.” Under 15 inches of snow I would change the sign to read “Impossible to follow, difficult to insane, blanket of white.”
The thing is, there is something about the snow, the beauty and the mess of it along with the pleasures and the difficulties it brings that helps me move into this liturgical season. On Ash Wednesday (in our case this year Tuesday evening or Wednesday noon) we will mark our heads with ashes as a symbol of our 7 week long endeavor of repentance and turning the entirety of our lives back to God. For seven weeks Christians engage in practices and worship designed to open our hearts to the possibility of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday and there is something almost magical about the melting snow and budding flowers of the changing seasons happening in parallel to these spiritual practices. (Granted, living in the Michigan Easter morning bears the full potential of a blanket of snow or freezing rain but you get the idea).
There are a number of opportunities for the congregation to engage in these practices and I hope you make the space in your life this season to do so. Of course there is Sunday worship and in our soon to be completed newsletter you can find prayers and reflections on the weekly preaching texts for your home study. On Thursday evenings at 7pm beginning on the 19th David and Christy Newhouse will host in their home, along with Pastor Matt and Deacon Cara a small group called “Who Do You Say that I Am?” Each week the participants will reflect on the moment when Jesus asked Peter that very question and will seek to deepen our understanding of this question during Lent. On Sunday mornings I will offer a class called, “Prayer and the Spiritual Life.” This group will study the practice of prayer with a goal of deepening our own prayer lives, specifically learning how to pay and attention to and be in the presence of God at all times and all places. Finally, every Tuesday evening from 5:30 to 6:00pm all are invited to the Free Store worship.
My encouragement is to not let this opportunity pass you by but to fully engage in whatever practices might deepen your relationship with God so that on Easter morning the Resurrection of Jesus Christ fills your heart with delight and surprise and you find yourself in a season of resurrection.
I will leave with this prayer I discovered recently by the great Thomas Merton. This prayer will start my day every day during this season and sharing it is my gift to you – that if you come upon a day in which you have no space for any Lenten practice whatsoever, at a minimum you could carry this prayer in your pocket and take the minute to read it. May the words of this great wander give you assurance in this season.
I look forward to the journey so may the peace of Christ be with us all.
The Merton Prayer – Thomas Merton
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will, does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear for you are ever with me. And you will never leave me to face my perils alone.