iStock 000043282422SmImpossible as it seems, in a few short weeks we step into a new season of the church year: Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent falls on February 14 this year. Yep Valentine's Day. Keen observers will have noted that that means Easter falls on April Fool's day this year. Maybe the universe is playing with us. Perhaps it is a good reminder that love and things deemed foolishness by this world's standards can work together to save the world.

Included in the lectionary readings for Ash Wednesday are these words from Joel, which offer a familiar, tender portrait of the God who draws us in, towards her:

"Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart …. Return to the Lord, your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and relents from punishing."

As biblical scholar Wil Gafney points out, "this core description of God is foundational in Judaism and is repeated throughout the scriptures - in Exodus, Numbers, Nehemiah, Psalms and Jonah. All of these use forms of the Hebrew root rhm, meaning womb, to express God's tender love, often translated as "merciful." Rahum is the deep love that springs from the womb, no more separable than the heart is from heartache." *

It is to that same God that we turn as Lent begins. Lent has traditionally been a season of fasting and self-discipline which can sometimes slip into moralism and a false sense that we can and should earn God's love by our own scrupulous efforts. God's deep tender love for us need not be - cannot be - earned, it is always already given.

But paring away superfluous things and focusing on essentials can ground us in the God/Love in whom we live and move and have our being. Perhaps this will be your path for Lent this year, finding something to let go of to make space in your life. My own Lenten discipline will once again include fasting from social media (for me that includes Facebook, twitter, and Instagram) and watching how my attention, energy and focus shift, opening up space for more immediate contact with the people I care about and with the Holy.

Perhaps for Lent you will want to be intentional about creating space for encountering God with renewed daily prayer, meditation, or study. You are invited to join me for weekly gatherings to study together Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan's book, "The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus' Last Week in Jerusalem." Borg and Crossan present a fresh vision of Jesus, offering himself up in commitment to the powerless and in protest to power without justice and wealth without concern for the poor. A vision that challenges, inspires, and invites us to follow!
We'll gather in the Circle Room, 7 - 8:15 pm, Wednesdays February 28 and March 7, 14 and 21.

 

* The Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, "Commentary on Joel 2:1-2, 12-17," www.workingpreacher.org

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