Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Lenten Journey- Ash Wednesday- Interrupted By God

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.
God will be constantly crossing our paths and
canceling our plans by
sending us people with claims and petitions.
We may pass them by,
preoccupied with our more important tasks…
When we do that we pass by
the visible sign of the Cross,
raised athwart our path to show us,
not our way,
but God’s way
must be done.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer- Life Together

Bonhoeffer. He has been much in my thoughts over the past few months. He is one of the heroes of the faith that early on had an incredible impact on me. It was 1971. I was at my first ever church camp. I was a counselor, invited by a friend, to help him lead a course on the church and war. The program leader first introduced the camp to Bonhoeffer in one of his morning lectures. Bonhoeffer was a theologian and pastor in Germany in the 1930s and 40s. He died 26 years before in 1945 in the waning days of World War II- imprisoned and executed by Hitler’s SS as the result of his participation in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. He had been a major opponent of the German Lutheran Church’s support of Hitler and the Nazi policies. He was a founding leader of what came to be known as The Confessing Church.

He has become one of the guiding theologians on wrestling with grace and discipleship, the church and our role in the world. The Cost of Discipleship remains a relevant classic; Life Together may be one of the single best theologies of church life; Letters and Papers From Prison shows his ongoing pastoral concerns. A giant of a man.

Over the past two months I have been writing a series of nine posts related to dealing with impressions, reactions, and concerns that have arisen for many people since the election in November. Many have described their reaction as a “Dark Night of the Soul.” I explored the Dark Night as an essential experience to getting closer to union with our Higher Power. It doesn’t matter what political or non-political situation starts the journey through the dark night. I believe many on both sides of the political spectrum have experienced this in many different ways over the past years- not to mention centuries. What is important is opening ourselves to the ways that we may be being led. I am not an active pastor any more. I am writing as a person on a spiritual journey, giving voice to my own concerns and yearnings for peace in my soul and in my land. I speak for no one but myself. (Link to the posts.)

The question comes down to a very simple (though not easy) one for me:
How does one live the spiritual life in the midst of cultural, social, and religious unrest?
The answer for me started in allowing the dark night to open me up to surrender to the ways and will of my Higher Power, whom I call God as revealed in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Please note: I am writing personally as a Christian. I will talk about “God” and “Jesus Christ as Lord” and the “Holy Spirit” in this series. Lent is a Christian journey with Jesus to His death and resurrection. These, and the Jewish underpinnings of the Christian faith, are who I am. They are the language that speaks to me. But I believe the spiritual journey of the soul knows no denominational or specific faith tradition.

The second question builds on the first:
How does one live in the world when one has journeyed what may be called the mystical path into some form of greater union with God knowing that the ultimate union must wait until after this life?
As I came to the end of the previous series I realized I needed to dig more deeply into those questions. I also realized that Lent is the perfect Christian season to do so! At the same time I came across a post on Facebook by “The Contemplative Monk” who described the journey of Lent:

Lent is the church season we die to ourselves, lament our loss, fast, and pray, to be enabled to live a resurrected incarnational ‘Christ in us’ life. No one lives a resurrected life without dying daily. 

With that in mind here’s what I hope to do in the weeks until Easter.

I will be posting a series called “Interrupted by God” which is a phrase from the quote above. I have found 12-14 of the most commonly noted quotes from Bonhoeffer and will deal with one each Sunday of Lent and each day during Holy Week until Easter. I will be looking for direction on how to live in difficult times or even times when things seem to be going downhill far too quickly.

In so doing I will be seeking words of
  • grace and peace, 
  • conviction and repentance, 
  • atonement and forgiveness. 
  • I will be looking for the ways that, as a follower of God, I can seek God’s will and the power to live it.
It begins with today’s quote at the top of this post. Here is what that quote said to me as I begin Lent, 2017.
  • We need to be ready to be interrupted by God.
It is way too easy to be busy. In my busyness, which even includes my plans on being spiritual (!), I can easily overlook the presence of God in my life. This is not a new insight. Rather it is one that has been one of those human failings that so many of us have. We can be so busy with what we think is God’s work (or not) that we don’t see the work in front of us.
  • God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans
In my experience God does not suddenly grab me by the back of the neck and pull me Godward. Nor does God hit me with a  2x4. At least not very often. God more often just walks in front of me, crossing the path where I had been going, and getting my attention with more subtlety than we may expect.
  • Sending us people with claims and petitions.
The subtlety is because God uses other people. For me, in my experience, these people are often those we have so easily “labeled” as the “least, and lonely, and lost.” Nice categories but what happens when the person in my path is not a least, a lost, or a lonely person, at least on the outside? What happens if it is a person with “privilege” fighting her own struggles? What if it is a person I don’t feel comfortable around? There is where this interruption by God becomes meddlesome.
  • We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks…
We do have choice, “Free Will!” We can say no. We can continue on our way. “Yes, I see you,” we may say, “but what I’m doing is so important. I have hungry to feed, sick to visit, strangers to welcome.” These are good things, even important things. But sometimes the person right there in my path needs something from me, or perhaps even more likely, is a way for God to get my attention. But I can move on.
  • When we do that we pass by the visible sign of the Cross,
There's always - BUT! The visible sign of the cross is what I am ignoring. The visible sign of the cross- the sign of God’s action in Jesus- calls me to live and love as Jesus did. Isn’t that what the inner journey of the dark night was supposed to teach me? But in my free will, forget it. Oh how blind we can be when we choose not to see.
  • raised athwart our path to show us, not our way, but God’s way must be done,
Not my will but God’s be done. Amen.

But how then do I bring this into my life? How do I discover God’s way? I must ask myself some questions. Perhaps even each day- and often each day...
  1. What is interrupting my life right now? Might that be a call from God to move in that direction?
  2. How can I learn to more clearly see the “visible signs of the cross” when I am moving through my day?
  3. Am I willing to follow the directions of my Higher Power, praying only for God’s will for me and the power to carry it out?
As I write this I realize how big a task is in front of me this Lent.

May I be willing to stop and see the cross-
and the ever present promise of life!

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