For the past few days, I have been keeping my eye on Facebook as a means of keeping tabs on friends and family in Connecticut who are dealing with this past weekend’s storm. On one hand, I am ecstatic that they got all the snow and we didn’t. On the other hand, I must admit that I am a bit jealous. Just yesterday a friend posted that her road was still not plowed and remained impassable. For her, this was something to complain about. For me, I am not sure I would be so ready to complain. Just think, three days of not having to go anywhere or do anything while being forced to sit back and wait for the plow to come.
As modern Americans we are not very good at taking advantage of unstructured time. . . . of allowing ourselves’ the spare time we need in which to catch our breath and to let our bodies catch up with all the busyness the world can throw at us.
Instead, we are more victims of busyness, not comfortable with unstructured time, or open space on our calendars. And we are not willing to stop and figure out where we are going or from where we have come.
In many ways the season of Lent is the Church’s way of putting us in the midst of the aftermath of a major snow fall. It is God’s call to us to stop, to examine the busyness of our lives and to figure out what is essential and what is not, so we can carve out the room to rest and to focus on breathing once again.
Breathing is important. Breathing is the most important means we have to sustain life. While taking first aide, I was taught the first thing a rescuer checks for is breathing and it is his or her first job to make sure the airway is open and unobstructed. According to Native American tradition, life begins with the first breath and ends with the last breath. According to ancient Jewish tradition, breathing is not just a physical necessity, it is also a spiritual reality as the Hebrew word for breath “ruach” is also the word for spirit. Thus telling us that with every breath we take in, we literally inhale the Holy Spirit into our bodies and receive the gift of ongoing life.
It is interesting, however, how few of us truly take the time to breathe. Now I know we all literally do breathe, after all, breathing is an involuntary action. But how many of us truly take the time to breathe spiritually. To literally stop, to clear our heads and to allow ourselves to be fully present in the presence of God?
In a few minutes time, I will be inviting us on behalf of the Church into a holy Lent through prayer, study and fasting. The season of Lent is placed by the church calendar when the world around us appears dead and lifeless. It is the time of year in agrarian cultures between harvest and planting, when there is little for the farmer to do but tend the live stock and wait for the thaw of Spiring’s to come so planting can commence.
Lent occurs during the time in the year when trees and other plants are dormant above ground but developing and strengthening below the surface. Lent therefore is not just a time to make space in our lives for breathing, but to use as a time to grow and to become stronger at our spiritual core through the disciplines of prayer, study and fasting.
As a preacher I am somewhat frustrated with the Gospel assigned to Ash Wednesday. Our reading is an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount and is filled with commands for purity of heart and intention when participating in the disciplines of faithful lives. I am frustrated with this reading today, because through all the commands of Christ, I feel as if the prayer and fasting the Church calls us to is a call to add yet another layer of things to do to our already over burdened lives.
I think it would be better to save this reading for Sunday, and to actually exchange this reading with this coming Sunday’s reading as well. This Sunday we will hear of the origins of these next forty days. This Sunday we will be told of how Christ deliberately sought breathing space by leaving the villages of Palestine behind him, and traveling deep into the barrenness of the desert. While in the desert for forty days and nights, he prayed, fasted and faced the temptations of Satan. While he was in the wilderness, Jesus became united with God the Father. One could say he took in a full, deep, and sustaining breath and of the Holy Spirit.
And, this is what a Holy Lent is truly about. Lent is about finding our open and desolate wilderness by freeing ourselves of the distractions of the world by allowing ourselves the time to breathe deeply. Lent is about taking the time to focus as if we truly were breathing in the Holy Spirit and then breathing out and letting go of all that gets between us and God. Lent is about making more room for the Holy Spirit . . . the source of all that is life within our lives.