Welcome to Lent!

Posted on Mar 1, 2014

During Lent folks often take up different disciplines. Some take up the practice of fasting; some take up a new focus on prayer; some take up self-reflection and reconciliation.

There is a long view of discipline I’d like to bring up, because there are different aspects of our spiritual endeavors that emerge as our journey continues. One of the basics is presence, which used to be called “recollection” or even “quiet”. Recollection is most fundamentally a practice; it is something we do. There is a goal: to collect oneself, to attain a certain level of focus and concentration so that we are not blown all over the place by sights and sounds and thoughts and feelings, etc. We learn to become mindful, to be stable in this present moment.

By being recollected, we are setting the stage to be aware of our interior, preparing to engage in interior quiet. In this practice, we are somewhat self-directed. We are actively doing this practice, coming back to the present moment again and again to what is in front of us, what we are feeling, where we are. This aspect of our journey is sometimes called an acquired practice, because we are acquiring, working toward this goal, this outcome. God has already given us the grace to do this work and we can become focused, collected and mindful.

As our spiritual journey continues, God calls us to a deeper level of practice, one that eats away at our self-direction. Whereas our discipline was kind of pushed along by our own will power, the next stage is deeper than our will, deeper than where we can push and so we enter into what is sometimes called infused practice. In this aspect of the journey, we consent to God’s actions in us; we begin to realize God’s grace is taking us deeper than where we could go ourselves. The best we can do at this point is simply be open to God’s work in us, not resist, not hold on and not react to the transformation that God is doing in us.

The acquired part of the journey had us change; the infused part of the journey seems to transform us. The “me” that was doing this or that practice is being transformed from the inside out. Where we were working to be focused and collected, now we are letting God unbind the deep knots in the soul and especially that knot we falsely call “I”. God is now illuminating our soul with the dark ray of faith. Our goals for life, our understanding of our self, even our image of God, are all coming undone. They are being illuminated and clarified by God’s presence and action. This illumination is also a part of the journey where a different quality of Love seems to emerge in our life. A Love that is not dependent on any goal or outcome; a Love that is not quite based in the “I”, though still seems to flow through it. In this part of the journey we have the unraveling of the self, the sense of the doer of things, the thinker of thoughts, the witness of experiences starts to get unraveled. You might notice a Love that is bigger than anything you have experienced and this Love is coming from a place deeper than your own sense of “me and mine” – it has the mark of Christ, the mark of the Spirit at work. Incidentally, many of us are the last ones to know that this kind of thing is happening in us. This is one of the reasons that it is important to be in contact with a spiritual director or a confessor or a spiritual mentor who can help point some of these things out. At some point this part of the journey, too, becomes unbound and our sense of self, the fixed point of reference that we feel is “me” becomes hidden in Christ. We hear about this in the Baptismal Liturgy where “In (the waters of Baptism) we are buried with Christ in his death” (page 306, BCP). You are sinking into the life of the Trinity, deeper than the part of you that really wants to see all of this happening.

This is not the end of the journey, of course, but we will have to wait until the Holy Week and Easter “Keystones” for other aspects.

Consider yourself invited to observe a Holy Lent and the depths of the Spiritual Journey.
Peace, Fr. Justin