Welcome to my Lenten retreat.
You can experience the retreat in whatever way works best for you: video, audio, print, or some combination of the three.
Each week’s reflection is drawn from a chapter of Days of Deepening Friendship. While it is not necessary to read these chapters to participate, it will likely enhance your experience.
When you have completed this week’s retreat you can share your insights, and read and respond to what others are saying.
This reflection is based on Chapter 17 of my book, Days of Deepening Friendship.
Let’s get started.
View the video reflection:
Listen to the audio reflection: Ash Wednesday: “Are you ready to be honest?” Lenten Retreat: Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday: “Are you ready to be honest?”
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
Ash Wednesday begins for the Christian a season of repentance. It’s a time of soul-searching. As the prophet Joel said, “Rend your hearts and not your clothing.” It used to be a sign of mourning and repentance for a person to rip open the outer garment. But God said to the people, “Open your hearts, instead.”
Nothing opens up a heart like a good dose of honesty. And so the question for today’s session is this: Are you ready to be honest?
If we’re honest, we remember that we are mortal. The Ash Wednesday liturgy reminds us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. This is a time to remember that what gives us life is the breath of God. What holds creation together is the presence and power of Jesus Christ. As human beings, we have limits. However, as new creations in Christ, endless possibilities open up for us.
If we’re honest, we admit when life isn’t working. Dysfunction enters the picture in all sorts of ways. Life doesn’t work when our relationships are crippled by hurt feelings and resentment, by anger or a lack of forgiveness. Life doesn’t work when we become the slave of our own bad habits, whether that’s overeating to comfort ourselves or taking on too many responsibilities in order to please others. Life doesn’t work when we avoid conversation with God, when we cut off from ourselves the very love and grace that could help us cope.
And life doesn’t work when we ignore our own deep intuition. Are you ignoring your profound unhappiness? Are you denying the stress that’s eating you alive? When we stop paying attention to our interior health, we continue living in ways that cause damage—to ourselves and others.
God invites us, at the beginning of this Lenten season, to have the courage to be honest. Whatever that soul-searching reveals, God’s grace is large enough and merciful enough to help and to heal. When God calls us to mourn and repent, the point is not to make us despair but to give us hope. Repentance opens the heart so that Christ can come in.
A Spiritual Exercise for This Week
Pretend that a prophet has landed in your town or city this week. Local news teams are covering the speech this prophet is delivering in the football stadium this evening. Everyone is surprised when this speech lasts only five minutes.
Write down what the prophet says to the city.
You’re really surprised when, after the public appearance, the prophet comes to your home for coffee and snacks. She stands in the middle of your living room and looks at you intently. “I have a message for you personally,” she says. “Are you willing to hear it?”
You gulp but decide you may as well hear what she has to say. “Yes, I’ll listen,” you say.
Write down what the prophet says to you.
Before the prophet leaves, she walks up and gives you a long hug. She smiles and says one last thing to you, which is:
Have a little talk with God about this encounter with the prophet.
I invite you to post your comments and questions and I will respond throughout the week. I will also be available every Wednesday from 10 am-Noon CST to communicate with you in real time. Don’t forget to join me next week (I’ll send a reminder).