A Prayer for Lent
In a book of Lenten devotions compiled from his writings, Henri Nouwen wrote the following prayer:
The Lenten season begins.
It is time to be with you in a special way, a time to pray, to fast,
and thus to follow you on your way to Jerusalem, to Golgotha,
and to the final victory over death.
I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you,
but I also want to follow my own desires
and lend an ear to the voices that speak
about prestige, success, human respect, pleasure, power, and influence.
Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to the narrow road to life.
I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me.
The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life.
I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts,
words that are your words, and
actions that are your actions.
There are no times or places without choices.
And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.
Please, Lord, be with me at every moment and in every place.
Give me the strength and the courage to life this season faithfully, so that, when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life which you have prepared for me.
Lenten season has begun indeed, the lead up to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
What an odd thing to celebrate, I sometimes think, as I hear the incredulous questions, sarcastic comments, and stifled giggles of my friends and neighbors who either walk a different faith walk entirely or believe in nothing apart from what can be seen and touched. I acknowledge that it is nearly impossible to explain my faith in the story of the life of Christ to someone who thinks of the Bible and its stories as foolishness, as myth.
I also acknowledge that in the name of the Christ millions of people have been and continue to be slaughtered, abused, humiliated, swindled, cheated, misled, and otherwise mistreated. Sometimes I weep when I think of the way that Christ's name and message have been misused for material profit, political gain, and military advantage - and continue to be misused to this very day.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
But the voice of Christ calling me to have compassion on others,
to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to seek peace and pursue it,
that voice calls to the deepest part of me - and I cannot and choose not to ignore it.
The call of Christ challenging me to touch the untouchable,
to love those that some call unlovable,
to eat and drink and share my life with the poor, the lonely,
the rejected, the sorrowful,
and to tell the truth of my own poverty, loneliness, rejection, and sorrow,
I cannot and will not ignore that call.
But I am divided. I want to avoid the pain around me and within me.
I want to pretend that homelessness and hunger and mental illness,
that poverty and abuse of all kinds and unjust war do not exist -
and if they do, I want to convince myself that there is nothing I can do about it.
I am divided because I know that there is something I can do.
There are choices I can make that will make a difference.
I can speak up and speak out. I can write letters and make phone calls.
I can stand with my immigrant friends and plead for immigration reform.
I can choose to not buy from certain stores or companies.
I can stand in solidarity with my poor friends
(Do I even have poor friends? Or have I completely insulated myself from poverty?)
and cry out for help and mercy and generosity.
I can empty my drawers and closets and shoe boxes and clothe the needy.
I can empty my pantry and feed the hungry.
I can stop living in fear that there isn't enough and recognize the truth that there is more than enough.
As Gandhi said decades ago: "There is enough for everyone's need, but there is not enough for everyone's greed."
I am reminded by Nouwen's prayer that it is no longer enough simply to pray or meditate.
I must choose to love, to give, to share, to work for justice and peace,
to be present to the needs and sorrows of my neighbors and friends and loved ones.
I weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
I choose to speak and write words of peace and grace and
forgiveness to the one who recently rejected my family,
even though we are members of the same family.
And I ask her forgiveness for any and all pain I have caused her.
(Will you forgive me and give me another chance to be a better sister and aunt? Please???)
I join Nouwen in his prayer asking Christ for the strength and courage to live out this life I have been called to live.
To pray faithfully. To live faithfully. To love deeply. To laugh heartily.
To forgive completely. To seek forgiveness truly. To not turn away from those in need.
To give, to receive, to rejoice, to weep, to be true and whole and to be at peace.