Monday, February 4, 2008

Inwardly I Struggle--Reflections for the Week of Lent

Suffering loss led me to include as a Christian the practice of solitude and contemplation. I don’t want to say what this means to anyone but me; but a film director produced a one year documentary on the life of solitude practiced by the Carthusian Monks of the Grand Chartreuse monastery in France, a film entitled Into Great Silence. So if you’d like to try out a day of solitude, perhaps you could start by watching this film as a meter for the practice. Or for a review, visit Christianity Today.

If you’ve ever attempted contemplation or meditation or any of the worship practices that can only happen in solitude, you might find it’s not readily embraced. We’re accustomed to noise and activity. The first time I went away on a retreat to practice solitude, I couldn’t wait for the time to be alone and not be needed by anyone. But what awaited me was a surprise.

When I was alone for the first day, I did what I imagined. I knelt in a quiet room overlooking a rose garden. I had taken prayer retreats with my church, so I was acquainted with practicing God’s presence or seeking God in a waiting posture, not asking for anything. So I did that for a bit and then the silence became nearly deafening. Restlessness caused me to pace. After two days of solitude, I moved out to the rose gardens where I journaled. By the third day, though, I was finally beginning to relax and become accustomed to the silence. That is when I first noticed God speaking to me. Had he been doing that all along? When I leave behind the noise of everyday life, I find out things like that, that God has been talking, but the place where I live prevents me from hearing him.

The first thing that God showed me was the condition of my own soul. I don’t feel that God does this to make us feel condemned. Women are already innately racked with guilt, so understand that when God does this for me, I sense a benevolent soul hovering over me, guiding me, and helping me to understand why I stumble or why I keep taking the same hills. Then as I begin to repent of said sin, there is a deep sense of sorrow, especially if my sin has hurt another human. When I’m home and allowing my life to spin out of the busyness of activities, then I also adopt a pseudo-spirituality. I justify my actions, anger, judgmental attitudes by measuring my life by the life of other flawed humans. I might tell myself I had a right to say what I said or think what I thought because that person was in error and as a result, their error was hurting me or someone else. But when I go away for a time of contemplation, then I no longer have those people around me as my measuring stick, just the measure of my own sin-sick life against the radiance of Christ. That is why I think such deep sorrow accompanies the first day or so of contemplation.

I plan this Holy Week to discuss some practices that have been left by the wayside in the wake of popular evangelical faith while embraced wholeheartedly by ecumenicals. Some of what we do is beneficial, but others not. I’d like to open a dialogue about the things to which we need to return. If you practice Lenten traditions, please feel free to post your own observations

"The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.' Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper … " (1 Kings 19: 11-13)