Returning to the Source: Enriching Lent by entering into the Gospel
Some memories remain amazingly fresh through the years. One of mine takes me back to the age of 7 or 8, when a young, enthusiastic teacher taught our class that Jesus is our friend, someone we could talk to at any time, any place. I chose the chicken coop after school because that was where my farm chores took me, doling out the oats and corn from a tin bucket as I fed the clucky hens. I felt such joy and peace knowing I had an invisible presence listening to my thoughts and feelings. I didn’t need a response; just knowing I was being heard was enough.
Although my perception of the divine has expanded since then, the core value of those early school days remains with me: Stay in relationship with this teacher, healer and counselor to find inner peace and wise direction for how to live. Each Lent I welcome the opportunity to refresh and re-energize this bond. Meditating on the Gospel passages for the liturgical season and relating them to my daily life provides ample potential for this revitalization.
Like any thriving relationship, this faith requires a continual return to the source.
When I entered my religious community, I learned how to meditate. But it was through Jesuit-led annual retreats that I gleaned another vital step for this relationship—incorporating the Ignatian method of entering intimately into the Gospel scenes, noticing the details, placing myself there among the people, absorbed in the spiritual energy of the one who healed and counseled them.
I marveled at how alive those scenes became when I used both my external and internal senses.
Doing so drew me closer to this loving source, inspired me to want to live more intently what I saw in my mind’s eye and felt in the depths of my heart. Learning how to pray in this way has been a valued spiritual practice, especially for my Lenten journey, enabling me to gain insight and courage for the inner growing I have yet to tend.
When considering a relationship with Jesus through the Gospels, coming to relate to him in a personal manner is essential for truly embracing Christian faith, more than simply reading or hearing a Gospel passage. Otherwise religious faith remains just a list of rules, regulations and creeds. Like any thriving relationship, this faith requires a continual return to the source in order to effectively embrace what he taught about spiritual transformation.
Wherever he was, Jesus spent a significant amount of his guidance giving advice on our attitudes regarding one another: Consider others as precious as yourself; cease comparing; be humble and forget about pushing into first place; remember what genuine love is about; move toward rather than away from those who treat you as an enemy; be willing to pay the price for what you believe and value; stand with and support marginalized persons; don’t think twice about letting go of what holds you back from being truly kindhearted. These are just a few of the guidelines that inspire and urge me, especially during Lent, to keep maturing spiritually, to continue to embrace the heart of the Gospels’ directives.
When I pause to consider what guides the flow of my life, these teachings of Jesus are center-stage. Their transformative messages continue to provide counsel and direction.
When I pause to consider what guides the flow of my life, these teachings of Jesus are center-stage. Their transformative messages continue to provide counsel and direction. I cannot imagine my spiritual journey without its being based on these foundational principles. Many times I’ve neglected their directives. At other times I have given them ample attention and activation. When I see that some of what I think, say and do has to be restored to its true and solid footing, I gladly welcome a fresh slant or perception that re-grounds my spiritual growth. This sighting enlivens my motivation for ongoing transformation.
With few exceptions, the most difficult task of a Christian involves that of being a living exemplar and conduit of the virtues so obviously present in Jesus. What a gift Lent can be for us in continuing to grow and deepen this process of personal transformation.
And so it is that the teachings, healings and counseling of Jesus lead and direct us on this transforming route that brings us ever further into the fullness of who we truly are—persons capable of great love. This relationship continually widens and deepens as the guidance of the way becomes intertwined with our everyday comings and goings.