Spiritual Practice for Lent

Ted has been contemplating the gospel readings for Lent. He offers this series of reflections, inviting folks to consider taking a day a week during this period to pray the scripture, follow the suggestions for spiritual practices and consider the questions about life in faith.

WEEK 1 LEADING UP TO THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, MARCH 9

TEMPTATIONS

Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11

(this week, try reading the passage three times -slowly)

Reflection

The great wit, Oscar Wilde, is attributed with the clever saying, “I can resist everything but… temptation.” The readings for the first Sunday in Lent tell a different story. Traditionally, we read one of the gospel versions of Jesus being tempted in the desert. Three times, a mythic, deceiver devil attempts to test and mislead Jesus from his core commitments: Turn the laws of nature upside down to satisfy yourself; perform a death-defying miracle to impress others; control the universe and claim power. Through it all, Jesus successfully manages to remain true to himself and his God-grounded purpose.

Question

We all have our own temptations: materialism and prosperity, security and safety, prestige and pride. Each of us has our own struggles with integrity. This week might be a time to consider the ways we are diverted from what is most important. How are we lured off course, subtly and otherwise, into choices that are less than faithful or actions that are less than honorable pursuits?

Spiritual Practice Suggestion

The author of Matthew, echoes Noah, Moses, and Elijah, and describes Jesus fasting for forty days and forty nights. For one day this week, change your usual eating habits. Some of you may want to fast for the day, or skip a meal, and ponder the hungry of the world whenever you think about food. Others might forego a favourite staple, and consider the limitations that those with food restrictions face in their dietary choices. Whenever food comes to mind, or into your senses, during this day, use it as a time to pause and pray in thanksgiving and intercession.

Prayer

For all those facing desert, or wilderness, or solitude: grounded-ness.
For all those tempted by want, or spectacle, or dominance: integrity.
For all those hungry or hurting or vulnerable: peace.

Jesus casting away Satan

WEEK 2 LEADING UP TO THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, MARCH 16

NICODEMUS

Scripture: John 3: 1-17

(This week, as you read the scripture, notice the questions in the passage — and the questions that are raised for you.)

Reflection

This passage comes with theological baggage. Placards at sporting events declare the short-hand message: John 3:16. “Born again” indicates a certain brand of Christianity. Often the ideas and sayings of this story have been used to separate into “us” and “them.” One side asks: “Are you saved like us?” Another side queries: “Are you fanatic like them?” These antagonistic attitudes neither help us to wrestle with the complexity of faith nor explore a text rich and deep in themes. Nevertheless, one matter stands front and centre in this passage: the demanding nature of discipleship.

As a successful leader and self-confident teacher, Nicodemus is positioned in privilege. By the cover of dark, he brings his curiosity and questions to Jesus. But Jesus’ responses befuddle and confuse Nicodemus’ literal mindedness; “how can a grown up go back into the womb and be re-born?” One can imagine Jesus replying with a teasing, ironic smile: “You are this great teacher, but you don’t understand.” Jesus invites Nicodemus to go deeper beyond the secrecy of the night — not just a lukewarm belief but a life of conviction and passion.

Question

In what aspects of your faith journey (e.g. prayer life, stewardship, relationships, political witness) are you being encouraged into more mature commitment and decisive participation? Are there ways you are being called to be “born again”?

Spiritual Practice Suggestion

One day this week, take the opportunity to have conversations with persons with whom you hold differing opinions theologically or socially. Or read/watch something that you don’t agree with or makes you uncomfortable. Notice what you learn about yourself – your opinions and your perspective.

Prayer

God of heaven who loves the earth,
broaden our view point,
deepen our wisdom.

Jesus and Nicodemus

WEEK 3 LEADING UP TO THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, MARCH 16

WOMAN AT THE WELL

Scripture: John 4: 5-42

(This week, as you read this passage, try imagining how you would explain this story to someone you don’t know.)

Reflection

Last week we read the story of Nicodemus: Jewish, male, and prestigious teacher. This week the character, in the very next chapter of John’s gospel, is a nameless, Samaritan, female who exists outside the norms of social conformity. They differ in almost every detail. Nicodemus comes at midnight; this week’s scripture happens at high noon. Even Jesus tends to treat them differently: – to the woman at the well he extends tender, generous compassion, with Nicodemus he seems tougher, more confrontational, even unyielding. And the responses to Jesus run in opposite directions –Nicodemus is not able to embrace Jesus’ message but the Samaritan woman moves enthusiastically into the role of witness and disciple.

Likely this woman was ostracized or stigmatized, and Jesus overstepped the barriers and boundaries of conventionality to talk with her. He takes her seriously. He engages this outsider in conversation. He treats this marginalized stranger with decency and respect.

Question

Who are the outsiders in our society? Would they feel welcome in our church?

Spiritual Practice Suggestion

One day this week, go to a public place where you don’t normally go (e.g. a different part of the city, riding an alternative bus route, attending an event where you don’t know anyone). What was it like for you to be an outsider? In places with which you are more familiar, who might be considered outsiders? Reflect on your experience of being an outsider and an insider.

Prayer

May we drink from the deep well of your grace, O God,
and know the good news that everyone matters.
May our thirsty souls partake of your living water,
so you would teach us to act like everyone matters.

Jesus and a woman at a well

WEEK 4 LEADING UP TO THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, MARCH 30

MAN AT POOL OF SILOAM

Scripture: John 9: 1-41

(This week, as you read this scripture, imagine you are a character in the story, and visualize the story from that point of view.)

Reflection

The beloved hymn “Amazing Grace” starkly contrasts “I once was lost and now am found; was blind and now I see.” This is the before-and-after crux of this week’s gospel reading: a blind beggar is healed and gains his sight. Through a gross concoction of spit and mud, and a messy conversion of faith and following, this man is transformed.

And everyone involved wants an explanation. The disciples wonder what he did to deserve his affliction; they ask if he or his parents sinned in some way. The neighbours don’t even recognize this man after he becomes sighted; have they defined, and limited, him by his disability? The faith authorities bristle against violation of Sabbath conventions; they seem unconvinced of this miracle. Even his family wants to pass the buck when asked to defend their son’s experience; they operate out of fearfulness. Yet, again and again, the man simply repeats his story: “I was blind and now I see.” Ironically, those around him who have had sight all along are blinded to the wonders of grace and conversion.

Question

Where in your life do you need to open your eyes? Could you be more grateful seeing the world through eyes of sacred wonder? Might you be less judgmental looking for the “back” story in others’ behaviour? Perhaps you could perceive more deeply with eyes of wisdom and compassion?

Spiritual Practice Suggestion

Take a day this week to imagine you are a photographer on an assignment to capture God’s presence in a visual essay. As you travel through your day, ask yourself:

• Whose picture might personify grace?

• What scene in creation might represent beauty?

• What work of art might translate into revelation?

• What actions in the world would indicate holiness?

Prayer

Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me…
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit Divine. (Clara Scott, Voices United #371)

a man healed from blindness speaks to accusers

WEEK 5 LEADING UP TO THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT, APRIL 6

MARY, MARTHA, AND LAZARUS

 Scripture: John 11: 1-45

(This week, as you read the story, remember your own experiences of grief and loss.)

Reflection

The shortest verse (v. 35) in the bible: “Jesus wept” contains the emotional heart of this Sunday’s scripture passage. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, and his friend, Jesus, convey the spiritually disruptive emotions of mourning and lament. In John’s gospel, Jesus is often portrayed as highly holy, other-worldly divine, and totally at one with God. Yet, in these verses his humanity is revealed as he grieves. Even the by-standers remark, “See how he loved him.”

The narrative also relates a miracle of resurrection and new life. From our post-enlightenment position, we are likely to ask irrepressible scientific questions about prove-ability and the contravention of the laws of nature: did it really happen?

Perhaps the story is more metaphor than metaphysics. It does hold before us a graphic figure of life and death. Lazarus is bid to “Come out” and he emerges from the stench of the tomb, needing to be unbound so that he can experience new life. What needs to be unbound in your life? Out of which tombs are you being called to “Come out”?

Our world is not as it should be. Social, emotional and spiritual dead-ends abound. Too many circumstances are cloaked in the grave clothes of marginalization and isolation, poverty and disease. Which situations, needing justice and compassion, can you be a part of resurrecting and setting free?

Spiritual Practice Suggestion

One day this week, tie a piece of string or ribbon or yarn around your finger or wrist. Let this binding remind you of the Lazarus story, and each time you are reminded, ponder whether you are:

• making choices for life

• feeling free

• contributing to others’ sense of possibility.

Prayer

Jesus, who wept over the death of Lazarus, be with all who grieve.
Jesus, who wept alone in Gethsemane, be with all who feel alone.
Jesus, who wept, “why has thou forsaken me”, be will all in pain.

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead

7 Replies to “Spiritual Practice for Lent”

  1. Thank-you Ted. This reflection and practice arrived as I was contemplating how to connect the readings with a manageable and relevant practice for a particular group within the congregation. I receive it as a “gift” not yet sure if it is the one to use!

    1. Scott here. I added the illustrations to Ted’s reflections. Most of them are from Henry Davenport Northrop’s Treasures of the Bible, 1894. (public domain)

  2. Ted – thanks so much for this gift and for allowing me to share it with my congregation.

  3. Ted:
    Thank you for this gift. I plan to share this with Soul Weavers, our women’s spirituality group.

    MaryAnn

  4. Ted,
    Thanks for this. I still sometimes use the Advent reflections that you wrote many years ago when we both worked at 120. I’m sure I’ll find these just as meaningful.

    Marian

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