One of Lent’s great lessons is the remembering just how much we are carrying. Sometimes we need to set out on a journey that seems too far and takes too long in order to recognize that we carry too much. We grow weary. Our legs wobble and our arms are weak. We find ourselves reacting and no longer responding. We seem restless and without focus. How can we tend to the matters of our hearts without strength and focus?
Imagine a Bag. Imagine a bag that is a bit old and worn. Imagine your Burden Bag. This bag has companioned you and you have filled it along the way. And it is now almost too full to carry, almost too much to even pick up.
Draw, sculpt, paint your image of this Burden Bag. Recreate images of what you’ve been carrying too long (i.e. guilt for a misdeed or misspoken words). Bring them to life. And then in the same way, recreate the images of what it would look like to unpack them from your Burden bag.
Breath Prayer: “Lay down” “my burdens”
Prayer: Holy One, you know us better than we know ourselves. In you are mercy and boundless love. Lead us, we pray so that through this freedom of letting go, our hearts may be broken open and we may be set free to follow you with new-found reassurance and great joy. Amen.
As he walked along, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
John 9:1-3 (entire reading is John 9:1-41)
Breath Prayer: “being” “revealed”
What is it about our human nature that draws into the debate of why bad things happen to good people? What is it about us that we continue in this age-old practice of wanting to know, needing to know why?
We encounter this again in John’s telling of the young man in this story. Throughout John’s gospel are stories of light and darkness, good and evil, of water, and of bread. Everyday elements are used throughout the gospel to point us toward God’s lovingkindness. Jesus turns the conversation on its head. Reminding his disciples and reminding us that in the midst of brokenness, there is grace.
Jesus brings us time and time again to the heart of the matter. With these stories we hear again the healing that comes to us from the inside out. Here we are reminded that even in our afflictions and disease, God is with us. Here we see again that God’s healing works come when we choose to turn and return to the love that is always holding us.
Prayer: Healing God, have mercy on our short-sightedness. May we see again your living presence in each life this day. Turn our questions into praise and shouts of thanksgiving. Return our hearts to you, we pray. Amen.
And The Lord said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it.
~1 Kings 19:11-12
Breath Prayer: “still” “small voice”
Lent invites us into the wilderness. In this age of instant communication and gratification, it is a revolutionary act to seek out quiet, to collect nothing. If just for a time, for these forty days we are turning from the overwhelming excess to this vast, desert place. We are returning and listening for the Spirit’s teaching for our spirit’s reconnection.
Like Elijah, we are yearning to find God. And like this story we all have times when we have sought after God in the past. We know times when we just weren’t able to find the One we sought after.
May your strength and comfort come this day as you continue on this Lenten path. Like Elijah, may you, too keep listening. May you hear that still, small voice of God speaking. May you be reminded that we often have to listen with our hearts and feel with our eyes. This faith journey we are on continues for our lifetime. Each day, each step can instruct and inspire us to pay attention to it all: the earthquake, the fire and the voice so still that we need to lean in to even begin to listen.
Prayer: Entering-in God, we listen for you this day. We long to know your presence in our lives. We long for your lovingkindness. Speak to us, bring to us ways that we might best know and serve you. Amen.
Listen to the word what God has spoken,
Listen to the one who is close at hand.
Listen to the voice that began creation,
Listen if you don’t understand.
~ Canadian folk song
Breath Prayer: “listen for the One” “close at hand”
Gathering together for worship is a spiritual practice. It is an intention to join minds and voices in praise and thanksgiving. It is the singing of hymns many of us have sung our whole lives, and yet that someone will be singing each Sunday for the very first time. It is the hearing of the Living Word of God. It is sharing prayers that mark the places where we have sinned. It is sharing prayers that seek forgiveness and reconciliation. It is participating in the rituals of baptism and communion.
This chant invites and welcomes us into the listening each time. Into the listening, this time. Listen for what is being said, sung, prayed. Pay attention. Even if you don’t understand –listen. Focused listening, faithful listening, holy listening encourages us to stay connected and engaged to the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
The first time we sang this folk song in worship, I cried. “Listen even if you don’t understand.” It’s not easy to listen when you don’t understand. Most of us turn away. Most of us talk-over. Most of us argue. But here we are invited to listen. Perhaps my tears acknowledge the deep gratefulness when my heart feels heard.
What would change in our relationships with one another if this became our practice? Staying in the conversation, staying in the moment ~ even if we don’t understand. But staying, listening in and through.
Prayer: Loving God, we listen for you this day. Speak your wisdom to us so that we might best serve you. We give you thanks for your loving presence. Amen.
Speak Lord, for servant is listening.
~ Samuel 3:9
Breath Prayer: “Speak now” “I am listening”
With all the constant stimulation we have around us, listening is not easy. Even when I do actually hear, there seems little time to take in what I've heard and let what I've heard settle inside me.
And now on this Lenten pilgrimage I am reminded of the importance of intentionality. Rarely anymore do the things that really matter happen spontaneously. Instead the journey is taken one step after another and another. Uphill sometimes. Walking on a flat surface other times. Seeing clearly and breathing easily and deeply sometimes. Feeling lost and struggling for breath other times. This journey of intentionally listening, of holy listening can become a gift of becoming more alive. When I share conversation with another and am able to wholeheartedly listen, then life happens.
Author Louise Penny’s hero, Inspector Armand Gammache often models holy listening. For Gammache case solving happens when he blocks out the distractions and instead pays closest attention, "Our work is about learning and in order to learn, we must listen. If we are talking, we aren't listening. And if we don't listen, then how can we possibly learn what we need to learn?"
May this be our intention on this Lenten journey. It is not a silent retreat, but a place of active listening for the holy in the midst of all the noise. It is our path and our prayer.
Prayer: Speak now Holy Spirit, for we listening. We listen with our hearts for the life that you have promised and the One that we long to follow. We pray this day in the name of Christ, Amen.
O come, let us sing to the Most High Creator of the Cosmos; let us make joyful song to the Beloved! Let us come to the Radiant One with thanksgiving, with gratitude let us offer our psalms of praise! For the Beloved in Infinite, the Breathing Life of all … … O that today we would harken to the Beloved’s voice! Harden not your hearts, as in days of old, that you be not separated from Love. Be not like those who hear the Spirit’s Voice and heed it not, thinking to be above the Teacher. For life is but a breath in the Eternal Dance, a gift to be reverenced with trust.
(from Psalm 95 from Psalms for Praying An Invitation to Wholeness by Nan C. Merrill)
Breath Prayer: “even” “in the wilderness”
Psalm 95 calls us to worship and calls us to task. The early verses welcome us into God’s creative songs. Here we reminded to return to God with a grateful and joyful heart, to return to God who is our rock and our salvation. We know this God. We know this God whose strength sustains us in the dark. Whose story has been told, sung, and prayed throughout time. Whose story has lifted and held us even in the wilderness.
The psalm continues to another time when our ancestors journeyed through the wilderness. Their path was not always clear, the ground uneven. The psalmist cries out to us, warning us against becoming hard of heart.
I need to also speak of my doubts and brokenness. All along this Lenten journey I have called out to God, my rock and my redeemer. All along I have been following a promise of God’s mercy and compassion. As my feet grow weary, so does my spirit and in this time I know about the real possibility of a hardening of heart. Today I pray for a shepherding God who I know will guide and protect as we continue on the journey.
Prayer: Holy One you have created us, each one. You hear both our songs of celebration as well as our weary sighs of frustration. Loving God, we remember your promise to be with us. Shepherd us, we pray. Amen.
Breath Prayer: “I am” “listening”
What makes listening holy? How is `holy listening’ any different than other listening? years ago I taught a Supervised Ministry class at Candler School of Theology. As teacher, I chose the topic. I chose the one act never formally addressed: listening.
For a semester the twelve students were divided into “A’s” and “B’s” and paired one with another. First the “A’s” were all asked a question (“how did you feel the first time you walked into the room filled with folks with Alzheimer’s?”) and then given 10 minutes to answer. “B’s” were asked to listen. As tempted as they were to engage, to interrupt, to elaborate, they couldn’t. They were asked to only listen. After the 10 minutes passed, then the “B’s” were given 5 minutes to tell the “A’s” where they heard God in those past 10 minutes. And then we switched up, B’s talking and A’s listening.
It was impossible. It was irritating. The students hated it…for most of the semester. And then, somehow, something shifted. For the whole class. Where there had earlier been tapping of toes, wriggling in seats, watching of watches and audible sighs, there entered into the room we all shared a quiet. After weeks of practicing this listening for God and not talking-over another, there was a peace that came. Somewhere in those weeks together, we had been reminded of the gift of listening for God in another’s story.
Prayer: Still Speaking God, we are listening for you this day. May our spirits quiet enough us that we hear with our hearts. May our thoughts be still so that we may be open to what is coming afresh to us. May we be renewed in your living word this day, new every morning. We give you thanks, Amen.
Today may be something brand new or something very familiar. This is an intention, a spiritual practice. This is a practice of holy listening in our conversations. Listening, not talking, not thinking about how we will respond. Just listening.
We will be writing verbatims, remembering conversations (30 seconds or 10 minutes) as close to word-for-word as you can recall. The practice is in the listening, the taking in of the words. To participate you are invited to write the conversation down.
Try this with one conversation during the day, or maybe two or three. After you have written the verbatim (your words and the other person’s words), leave it for a time. Go for a walk or wash the dishes. Then come back and read through what you’ve written ~ listening for where the Spirit is speaking in those words.
Breath Prayer: “Holy” “listening”
Prayer: Loving Spirit you are always with us. You are as close as our next breath. Speak to us this day. Speak to us through those who are also journeying. Remind us that in our deep listening, we are drawn closer to you and to what you would have us hear this day. And we are grateful always. Amen.
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’.
(John 4: 5-8, complete reading is John 4: 5-42)
Breath Prayer: “deeper” “still”
Here by this well, Jesus teaches us to listen. Here with a Samaritan woman, Jesus listens with his heart, hearing deeply what she is saying. Here, he invites us to dig deeper, getting to the heart of the matter.
Here beside this well we recognize the value of the wells’ gifts. Wells aren’t filled from rain tumbling down from the sky, but fill from the bottom up. Under each well is a deeper source that runs below, from a deeper water-source. The deeper the well, the deeper source.
This Lent may we be reminded of this gift wells offer to us. May we be reminded of how wells bring us images of our faith. May we remember the water source, the energy source, the healing source deep within. When we pay attention only to what is happening on the surface, we get only the top water. But if we draw deeper, closer to the core of who we have been created to be – may we remember that there is a life source that will sustain us all the days of our lives.
By listening deeply to her story, Jesus enters into the depths of who she is. May our listening during this Lenten season follow closely in ways this story is leading us. Through our listening may we recognize the source of life in each of us.
Prayer: Gracious God, your love for us and this world is deeper than our understanding. Fill us with your grace we pray. May your living water poured out refresh us all so that we might rise renewed and refreshed to best serve you. Amen.
(thanks, Susie for this picture taken when you were in Crete)
Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.
~ Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Breath Prayer: (choose one of the sentences above and make it into two phrases)
In these Lenten days we recognize that time is different here. Moments that hold our prayers are holding our entire lives. There is time to pause, to reflect. Here in these Lenten days we are reminded that there is time enough between now and our next breath.
St. Theresa’s prayer is said to be over 500 years old. 500 years. Many of us have trouble remembering what we did last month or even last week, and for generations we have been praying this prayer. It is a welcomed companion for this day and this journey.
As we make our way through Lent, there is a great mystery that pulls us. It is a longing for that deep, life-giving love of God. This prayer invites us into the love of the One who brings strength and courage, comfort and solace. May we take heart and pray aloud this prayer, listening again this day for holy.
Prayer: Eternal and gracious God we give you thanks for the saints who have gone before. We give you thanks that the words of their faith continue to lead us closer to you. In this great mystery, may we take heart. May we continue to follow you all the days of our lives. Amen.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.