God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear…The Lord of hosts is with us…Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46)
Lent is traditionally a season when we give ourselves to spiritual practices we may have neglected. This year, it begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17. It’s a season of preparation; characterized by silence, solitude, prayer, fasting, and acts of mercy. It’s a season to “quiet our minds and open our hearts,” to borrow a phrase from Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield. Many of us think of prayer as primarily talking to God. Some of you have learned prayer as listening to God. Still fewer have experienced prayer as being with God.
Of course, if our image of God is a vengeful God, we will more than likely find it hard to be with God because we can’t trust a God whose right hand is ready to smite us at any moment. Similarly, if our image of the Holy One is a Judge, gavel in hand and ready to level an eternal life-sentence, we may also find it difficult to be with God because we cannot rest in God while awaiting our “sentence,” so to speak, which sadly many people fear is outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. If the Almighty is something of a Cosmic Vending Machine where we drop some silver, push a button and purchase what we want, this is not being with God either because we cannot be with God in the deepest way if our experience of the Everlasting One is little more than a transaction. Franciscan Priest, Richard Rohr, writes: “A lot of us pray as if prayer is really twisting the arm of God or convincing God to do something. We think by saying more words we’ll talk God into it. We think, “If I say it one more time, God will agree with me.” That very attitude is an alienating attitude. It keeps us in the role of doing it “right” or often enough to convince an unready or unwilling God.”
In short, our experience of being with God is compromised if there is always something to protect, to merit, to fear, or to pay for. However, if God-with-us is a Loving Presence, as close and dear to us as our own breath, and as necessary, then we can learn to trust, to surrender, to be still…to love. Then we can learn to quiet our minds and open our hearts and welcome the wonder of being with the God who is forever with us.
Grace and Peace,