... to love God more
Updated: Mar 6
Each year, as the season of Lent unfolds, I find myself drawn to different resources. Sometimes they are things I have carefully selected, writings or musings from people I want to have as companions during this Lenten walk. I look forward to this season as a time to draw nearer to God alongside wise spiritual companions. Sometimes other things, other words and prayers, present themselves as gifts; unexpected and welcome! And I pay attention to those invitations too. I want to share some of this with you in hopes that some aspect of Lent as I am experiencing it, might reach out to you as well.
My “planned” 2023 Lenten companion is Thomas Merton (1915-1968), the 20th c. monk, writer, contemplative, and mystic. I am reading small sections each day from “No Man is an Island” published originally in 1955. Merton’s photographs and writings were the inspiration for my recent sabbatical, and I find myself continuing to resonate with his ability to connect ancient faith with modern life and faith struggles.
I am up to the section on “Conscience, Freedom, and Prayer” this week, having spent the past two weeks in “Love Can only be kept by being given away” and “Sentences on Hope”. You can imagine, just from the chapter headings, how deep and wonderful it is to immerse oneself in Merton’s precise writing.
Merton writes a lot about truth, and being true to God and one another. He writes, “In order to love others with perfect charity I must be true to them, to myself, and to God.” One of my core values is authenticity. Being authentic in my speech, in my actions, in what I share with others is really important to me. This is connected to what Merton writes…I understand him to be saying that living our lives, OUR God-given lives, with truth and honesty, is honoring God, ourselves and those around us. This prompts some Lenten questions for me, and perhaps for you too: How am I true to my God given gifts? Do I tell the truth about who I am, what I care about? Am I authentic in all situations, or are there places where I pretend or hide? Do I know myself as beloved in God’s eyes? Is that my true identity (God’s Beloved)?
In the chapter on Hope, Merton writes: “We are not perfectly free until we live in pure hope. For when our hope is pure, it no longer trusts exclusively in human and visible means, nor rests in any visible end. He who hopes in God trusts God, Whom he never sees, to bring him to the possession of things that are beyond imagination.” As we move into this new season of our lives together, post-sabbatical, post-pandemic, what are we hoping for as individuals, as a community of faith? Are we clinging to the “human and visible means” –things we think we remember, things we love, things we feel we can control? Or can we hope with freedom? Hope with freedom to imagine a new way of being church together? Hope with trust in God to lead us to new life? These are big, big questions, and I pray that we may be comforted and buoyed by the words of Psalm 121 (this week’s appointed psalm), which gives us a vision of trust and hope; of authentic, unending love from our Creator, even as we live into new realities in our lives:
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?
2 My help comes from the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved *
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
4 Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *
shall neither slumber nor sleep;
5 The Lord himself watches over you; *
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,
6 So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is he who shall keep you safe.
8 The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore.
What can we do together to encourage each other in faith? To trust that God does indeed “watch over all our going out and coming in?” How do we honor the truth of the history of Trinity, and the reality of a future that is unfolding, with trust that God is at work in each one of us, and in our church?
One of the unexpected companions this Lent have been posts from the Society of St. Margaret. It is from them, I heard the encouragement to understand Lent as a time “to love God more.” We think of Lent as a time of penitence (and it is) the writer suggested that Lent is a time for us to see that even in a season of repentance, “God does not love us less, but we hope to love God more.” The antiphon at Morning Prayer for Lent is “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, come let us adore him.” If you begin each day with this proclamation, how might you be drawn to love God more, trusting that compassion and mercy for each of us is unending? How might you love God more this season? With spiritual companions? Spiritual writings? Making a Confession? A new or different prayer practice? All of these things are always on offer, but if something I’ve mentioned comes as an unexpected invitation, I encourage you to accept the invitation! May your Lent be filled with blessings and companionship along the way.
Your sister on the journey,
“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, come let us adore him.”
This antiphon is used during the season of Lent in Morning Prayer.