Every year in Lent…. I use this self-examination guide, written by a Presbyterian minister and professor named Frederick Buechner. I find his work to be profound and challenging.
In many cultures, there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it means to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.
- If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money, and why?
- When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?
- If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?
- Of all the things that you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?
- Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?
- If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?
To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end. Frederick Buechner
As promised, I have a second resource which has been inspiring and challenging as well. Kris Schalon gave me the book, “God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter.” It is a compilation of articles and devotionals written by some of my favorite authors like Richard Rohr, Ron Rolheiser, Luci Shaw, Lauren Winner, Scott Cairns and Kathleen Norris among others.
Each week, a different author takes responsibility for writing a daily devotional. This week, Lauren Winner is the writer. She is a professor at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina and was recently ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. I found Lauren’s work, as is typical in my experience, to be extraordinarily profound and meaningful.
For the Second Monday of Lent….read John 4:27-42.
Oh, the woman by the well! Of all the characters in Scripture, her faith story – if that is a fair way to describe what we read in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John – is one to which I especially relate and one to which I most aspire.
The woman has this encounter by Jesus at the well, and, though she is not totally clear about what just happened (“Could this be the Messiah?” she asks with a little hesitation, a little uncertainty), she knows it was important. She is so eager to tell her neighbors about the man she just met that she leaves behind her water jug.
What makes her feel such urgency? Is it too simple to suggest that she encountered God’s forgiveness – and that an encounter with God’s forgiveness, does, indeed, inspire urgent feelings? I just experienced something amazing. I have to tell someone. I’m not even totally sure what the experience was, I just know it was – amazing and everything!
Forgiveness on this story’s terms, forgiveness is God’s love for us, given all God knows.
God looks at those things in my life that I find most shameful. God looks at my most secret sins, the things that make me curdle. God looks at them and God sees something to love.
Yes, of course, God also calls for my amendment of life. God thunders through the prophets in all these stern and uncomfortable Lenten readings about how far off I am. God wants to stir up some awareness in me – God wants me to notice, and care, that I have wandered off (or perhaps not wandered – perhaps I marched). God wants me to change, to return.
And yet God desires us to return precisely because God looks at us and loves us, never mind all God knows about our secret shames. God wants to keep company with us, even so.
I was recently at a wedding where the pastor stood, smiling and beckoning, as two very young flower girls toddled down the aisle. The girls were often off course, veering, stopping halfway, getting distracted by a hat. And at the end of the aisle was the pastor, beckoning, smiling, and eventually, somehow those two little flower girls made their way to her.
That pastor seemed to me like God.
God stands before us, beckoning us, still beckoning, even as we tarry and get distracted and meander, with our basket of rose petals, off course. God is beckoning to us.
God knew everything about that woman at the well – everything about her. And God beckoned her over regardless. God wanted her to come to him. She sensed God’s beckoning and it set her into action. She had just, perhaps for the first time ever, had the experience of all at once being known and loved. This is a rare experience – to be truly known and loved all the same. Who do you say I am, Jesus asks us. He asks us over and over.
Here is one answer: he knows everything about me; he knows my most corrosive, hidden shame; and he beckons me toward him, nonetheless.
Living Water….who….refreshes our weariness,
Bathes and washes and cleanses our wounds
Be for us always
A fountain of life,
And for all the world, a river of hope,
Springing up in the midst
Of the deserts of despair.
Honoring and blessing,
Glory and praise
To you forever and ever.
Medical Mission Sisters