In the summer of 2017, Mark and I led the River of Life Connecticut River Pilgrimage – a 40-day journey of prayer and reconciliation with the land. I invited the more than 50 pilgrims who joined us to return to the prayers from our pilgrimage this Lent. Throughout the season of Lent, I am writing weekly reflections drawing on the themes from the Connecticut River Pilgrimage. They are also being posted by Kairos Earth, the organization that sponsored the pilgrimage. Enjoy!
Our winter lives in New England are full of barriers to protect us from the wildness of the outside world – the walls of our houses and the heating devices within; coats, boots, hats, mittens & scarves; our climate-controlled vehicles. Thanks to amazing road crews our routines can continue uninterrupted save the occasional blizzard or ice storm. All these protections keep us cozy, safe, and protected from the fierce wildness of winter.
Barriers that keep our bodies warm and alive on cold winter days are good and necessary protections. Yet our lives are filled with all sorts of other barriers that protect us from the wildness and the unpredictability of God. These barriers also keep us from dying, but they keep us from a spiritual death of the ego. Ultimately, that death invites us into a much greater life than we can possibly imagine.
Lent is a time to discover and strip away the barriers that stand between us and the wild love of God. Because God’s nature is so clearly revealed in the wildness of creation, I think it is also a time to strip away the modern barriers between us and the incarnate wildness of creation.
It may be a few days after Ash Wednesday, but it’s not too late to think about what to fast from this Lent. What can you remove from your life that will bring you into greater encounter with the wildness of God, the wildness of nature, and the wildness of the present reality. What barrier, can you remove to remind you that life – existence itself – is wild, free and glorious?
Here are some ideas:
Internet/Social Media: We all have had the experience of being transported from where are bodies are to some other place with one ding, swipe, or click. The internet is an incredible tool when used wisely. It also has tremendous power to shield us from the wildness of the present reality – including God and nature. Every time I do an internet or social media fast I am shocked at how programmed I am to reach for my phone as soon as I am no longer preoccupied with something else.
This fast can manifest multiple ways – delete a social media account for the season, limit internet use to working hours, keep a tech-free Sabbath once a week, or remove internet access on your smartphone. And then, look around you, really see the people you walk or drive by, notice how your body feels, pay attention to where your mind goes. Pray that your eyes would open to the infinite presence of God in each and every moment.
Conveniences: Our modern lives are chock-full of conveniences! Surveying our morning routines alone demonstrates this – light at the flick of a switch, water at the turn of a handle, hot water at the turn of another handle, a refrigerator keeping our food cold, a heater keeping us warm. Choosing to fast from a convenience can remind us how interconnected our lives are with the rest of the planet.
You can fast from a convenience by using candles in the evening instead of electric lights, hand wash dishes instead of using a dish washer, or limit the amount of trash you generate during Lent to a quart-sized jar (or smaller!). Consider parking far away from your office, grocery store or church rather than the closest spot you can find. If you are able to walk instead of drive, opt for walking this Lent. You can also remove a barrier between you and your impact on the earth by visiting the source of your conveniences. Visit the hydro dam, solar panels, wind turbines or power plant that produces your electricity or the reservoir that supplies your water.
Noise: The news, background music, podcasts, Netflix, conversation with others, books. We have countless ways to distract us from the physical reality around us, our thoughts, and God’s presence. On the Connecticut River Pilgrimage, silence was the cornerstone of everything we did. Without the silence – 3-4 hours every morning and 20 minutes of silence during communal prayer – the challenge of hearing the voice of the river and the presence of God would have been so much greater. Silence is our greatest aid in encountering the wildness of God, nature, and the present moment. The gift of silence is that it is accessible to us no matter where we are!
The prayer book encourages a practice of twenty minutes of silence two times a day. Additionally, you can fast from noise by not listening to the radio or podcasts; giving up recorded music; choosing to not watch TV, Netflix or movies; or keeping silence until mid-morning each day (you need to get your household in on this one!). Do not be afraid when your mind fills in the silence with noise of its own. You may be tempted to replace your old form of noise-making with a new form. Resist the temptation. If you stay with the silence and surrender your inner noisiness to God, inner silence will come.
It is a terrifying undertaking to remove the barriers we have built to protect us against the wild unpredictability of God, nature, and the present moment. I resonate with Emilie Griffin when she writes,
“‘Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.’ Isn’t that one of the most disturbing sentences in the Scriptures? We know God asks hard things. We know he did not spare his own Son. We know Jesus, prayed, not now and then, but all the time. Isn’t this what holds us back –the knowledge of God’s omnipotence, his unguessability, his power, his right to ask an All of us, a perfect gift of self, a perfect act of full surrender?”
Yet even as we enter this forty day fast, we already know how it ends. We fast, not in a spirit of deprivation, but with the promise that it is only through stripping the old away, through death, that new life will come.
May God give us the courage to strip away all that keeps us from knowing fully the wonder of this wild world and the love of a wild God!