Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lent Devotion: Ash Wednesday

This lent devotion is courtesy of Emilie Griffith's Small Surrenders(Paraclete Press)

We are not converted only once in our lives but many times, and this endless series of large and small conversions, inner revolutions, leads to our transformation in Christ.
-Thomas Merton

"WHAT ARE YOU GIVING UP FOR LENT?" This long-established custom of giving up treats, chocolates, caffeinated or sugary beverages, alcohol, or tobacco is perhaps the way we most often think of Lenten discipline. And it makes good conversation in casual situations. But we know it is surface stuff. Choosing to give up something good for something a bit less is a play-it-safe strategy. Something tells us there is more to spiritual transformation than this. We suspect that playing it safe is not what Christ lived and died for.

Thomas Merton's view, that we must undergo a series of large and small inner revolutions, is a truer picture of Christian transformation. When we choose some exercise for Lent, daily worship, daily prayer, abstinence from one thing or another, it is not so much the practice that transforms us. It is our willingness to change. And Merton says the process is endless. It's not about getting there, it's about being on the way.

Lent is our chance for a fresh start, a new page. We consciously let down our defenses against the grace of God. We admit to ourselves our need for improvement. We notice how hopeless we are. We tell God we're doing our best but we wish we could do better. We put ourselves in God's hands.

That is what Jesus does when he goes into the desert. He puts himself completely in God's hands. In Matthew's Gospel we read: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. (My first thought: don't try this at home.) By exposing himself to hunger Jesus opens himself up to assaults from the Devil. But he isn't just performing daredevil stunts. He makes a deliberate surrender of the will, a spiritual exercise. Jesus is placing himself in the Father's hands.

The time Jesus spends in the wilderness is a time of preparation. It is a kind of training. Jesus has a larger mission to fulfill, a ministry, a life's work. He is preparing himself for a larger call. When we go into the wilderness with Jesus our motive is similar, surrendering ourselves as a kind of preparation.

But how can we compare our little Lents to the walk Jesus takes in the wilderness? Of course the gap is huge between our holiness and his. We can hardly say our own names in his presence. But Jesus doesn't notice this gap, or he seems to overlook it.

The huge divide between our lives and his is a gap he is constantly closing. He wants us to come into the wilderness with him, if only just to observe at first. "Watch how I do this," he seems to be saying. "Notice these steps, this maneuver." Practice, he is telling us. Practice, and you'll improve, without even knowing it. Practice.

One thing we can learn from Jesus in the desert is to fortify ourselves with God's word. When the Devil tries to goad him into turning stones to bread, as a kind of power play, Jesus answers with words from Deuteronomy, Scriptures he knows by heart: It is written, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." The Devil wants him to break his fast. More important, he wants to weaken Jesus' allegiance.

What can we learn from just this little visit with Jesus in the wilderness? From watching him resist the Evil One?

We know, by watching Jesus, that emptiness is the beginning of holiness.

We know that we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness. We know we will be filled.

We walk with Jesus to be purified. We walk with him to be fortified. Nourished by sacrament and word, we walk through desert places more easily. We learn to deal with our own gaps, our lapses. We find that we can tolerate our hunger and our thirst.

We are converted not only once in our lives but many times. And the conversion is little by little. Sometimes it is as imperceptible as grass growing. But Lent gives us a time to move the process along. Intentionally. By small surrenders.

Merton says we "may have the generosity to undergo one or two such upheavals, (but) we cannot face the necessity of further and greater rendings of our inner self. . . ."

Merton says we cannot. But I think he knows we can. That is how our holiness grows, by small surrenders, without which we cannot finally become free.

If you would like to submit articles for this year's lent devotion, email me.

A Good Man Blog Watch: Finding Morris

I thought I'd do something a little fun this year for my birthday and Christian Fiction Blog. Three years ago I wrote a piece for Rejoice Atlanta News titled, "Why Christian Men Don't Date Christian Women." I interviewed 3 eligible bachelors in Atlanta, author Tony Hunter was one of them and the results cracked me up. Anyway...I put the story to bed and hadn't thought about it until; last month when I was approached by James Riley of Finding, a podcast devoted to 5 Christian men talking about real romance and showmance.

Now I can't disclose the entire interview, because I am prepping it for a magazine article. Instead I want to highlight James and other Christian men bloggers, who are doing it big right now. I think Every Wednesday this Month I will spotlight a new blogger. If yo want me to continue with this fun feature, then email me and subscribe.

Featured Blog:, Finding Halle Blog

Owner: James Riley

Other cast: Five male friends and an occasional guest

Location: Atlanta, but heard nationwide

Hotline: 678-534-2527

Date launched: 2 years ago

Format: Podcast, episodes available for download or CD conversion.

Reason why he began blog: "My male friends and I have dated a tremendous amount of women and we wanted to share our discovers and help bridge the gap between Christian men and women.

Brothers know that most of us want a woman that looks like Halle Berry, knows Jesus for herself but knows when to put the bible down, and make love to her husband. On Finding Morris we have this saying, that says: "We may not know women, but men we know" Finding Halle will serve the purpose of informing the brothers on the way women see dating as a Christian. "

Season: Season begins February 11 when James reveals the results of his holiday marriage proposal to a young woman he is smitten with.

Popular Posts:
My question revised: "Why don't Christian men date Christian Women?"

James Response: "Sex."

Stay tuned to FindingMorris. I hope to make a guest appearance this year. :) If they put me on what would you want me to ask the guys?

If you want to nominate your blog to be featured, join my mybloglog community.

Prayer Request: Tenessee

We're under a tornado watch in Atlanta now until 2pm, but the storms have weekend. I pray they don't happen., but we may have bad wind. Right now it's pretty dark and no wind.

My prayers are out to the people in Tennessee, especially the students at Union University in Jackson, TN, who were trapped in their dorms last night.
"This has been an incredible night for us...The campus has suffered major damage. About 40% of the residential life area is completely destroyed. We are grateful that there was no loss of life."
-Dr. David Dockery, Union University President
Update: The nine students who extended injuries will recover. Good news. Expected damage to that school 30 mil.


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