Are you just spinning in a circle year after year?Published 10:41am Friday, February 22, 2013
Column: Across the Pastor’s Desk, by the Rev. Timothy T. Reker
St. Theodore Church, Albert Lea
St. James Church, Twin Lakes
No, I’m not inquiring about your physical exercise routine, but am wondering about our attitude toward Lent, Holy Week, Easter and other recurring seasons and celebrations: Are we simply “going through the motions” of another cycle? Or, are we being drawn more deeply into the central mysteries of our Christian faith? In a very real sense, it is a choice between spinning in a circle year after year and growing spiritually as we deepen our understanding.
As human beings, we both like routines and rituals, but we also can become so accustomed to them that we don’t always appreciate what is happening. Lent began for many of us last Wednesday and some of us gathered in a church to listen to God’s word calling us to repentance and renewal. Ashes may even have been placed on our foreheads. But, what is our attitude toward the Lenten practices, readings and activities? If we are disposed to God’s grace at work during this sacred season, amazing things can take place in us.
Let’s look first at the traditional spiritual practices for Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It’s very important to remember what an early Church leader said about the season: We should do with greater intensity during Lent what we should be doing throughout the entire year. Yes, we are to pray, fast and give alms on a regular basis, but they carry a special meaning during these 40 Days. In all of these, we should always keep in mind the reason why — spiritual growth, drawing closer to God and others.
Each of us probably has our own prayer routine and I hope that it is a daily practice that leads to and flows from worship with our faith communities. God keeps calling us to a deeper and closer relationship through his son, Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit. Is God asking you to spend more time in prayer during these days and weeks? It might be reading more of the Bible, using a Lenten devotional, or even simply spending more time in silence and meditation. There are so many “noises” in our day that it can be difficult to listen, ponder and then speak heart-to-heart with the Lord.
Fasting can make some (many?) of us uncomfortable because it invites us to address areas of our lives that may not be “in balance.” Again, one of the early Church leaders reminds us that the most important fasting to embrace during Lent is fasting from sin! In addition to that life-long struggle, there may be other forms of fasting that could help us realize our hunger for God and the basic hungers that afflict our sisters and brothers. Catholics have a strong tradition of “giving up” things for Lent, especially meat on Fridays; yes, that is the original reason for Friday fish frys (we do have one more on March 15 — thanks for your support!). Perhaps other forms of fasting besides food and drink could help us spiritually: television (a program or an evening); technology (less computer time, texting, Facebook, etc.); or a “positive” form of fasting — walking or exercising.
Throughout the year we receive many requests to help others and can give alms to various charities in our churches and community. Lent might be a time to review our finances and make sure that the Lord receives our “first fruits” and not just leftovers. Are we supporting our faith community and other charities? Our fasting or living simpler can give us more resources to share with others. Time is very precious to many of us; volunteering or reaching out to others may be the best form of almsgiving for the recipient and the giver.
Lastly, we hear familiar readings as we move through these 40 days, including the temptation in the desert last Sunday. When we hear a familiar gospel (or other Scripture) passage, do we seek to understand it more deeply and apply it to our lives today? The temptations Jesus faced can give us encouragement and hope as we face temptations, testings and trials in our particular circumstances. Though we are not the son of God, we are God’s beloved sons and daughters, who are tempted to misuse our power and be unfaithful to our missions in life. Allow God’s word to permeate your heart, mind and spirit this Lent.
Spiraling can be challenging, even frightening at times, but so much more rewarding than spinning; I invite you to surrender to the “pull” of God’s grace.