Reflections on being curious and asking questions … the experience of the holy season of Lent.

In the holy season of Lent, we are called to the spiritual discipline of preparation. Some part of this is the practice of curiosity and questioning. Entering Lent is wandering into  the metaphorical  ‘wilderness’ … where everything is primal and makes a difference and you’re likely to be at risk and to get lost … it’s about life and death, about getting down to core values. From that deep place arises the deep questions, the underlying ‘why’ that shapes how we live. So Lent is about living close to the wellspring of creativity and tension, beyond the context that usually makes us comfortable, safe, and secure. Paying attention to Lent becomes an invitation to go into an emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual place where we have permission to wonder and doubt and explore and grow. — Rev Gail (with credit to Rev Sean Dunker-Bendigo of Madison Church for the inspiration to approach Lent as a series of questions)

Music Video Link: Question by the Moody Blues

Be present.
Make love. Make tea.
Avoid small talk. Embrace conversation.
Buy a plant, water it.
Make your bed. Make someone else’s bed.
Have a smart mouth and a quick wit.
Run. Make art. Create.
Swim in the ocean. Swim in the rain.
Take chances. Ask questions.
Make mistakes. Learn.
Know your worth.
Love fiercely. Forgive quickly.
Let go of what doesn’t make your happy.
Grow.
— Paulo Coelho

On Asking Questions: Being Curious

Always the beautiful answer / who asks a more beautiful question. —e.e. Cummings

Be curious. — Stephen Hawking

Don’t be afraid to look again at everything you’ve ever believed … I believe the more we search, the more we delve into the human teachings about the nature and God of life, which are in fact are the teachings of all the great religions traditions, the closer we come to a mature understanding of the Godself … In other words, doubt, questions, drive us to look at how we ourselves need to grow in wisdom, age and grace.  The courage to face questions is the first step in that process. — Joan Chittister

Instead of anxiety about chasing a passion that you’re not even feeling, do something a lot simpler: Just follow your curiosity. — Elizabeth Gilbert

A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea. — John Anthony Ciardi

Curiosity isn’t the icing on the cake. It’s the cake itself. — Susan Engel

We live in the world our questions create. — David Cooperrider

The role of the artist is to ask questions, not to answer them. — Anton Chekhov

I was looking for myself and asking everyone but myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. — Ralph Ellison

Ever since I was a little girl and could barely talk, the word ‘why’ has lived and grown along with me… When I got older, I noticed that not all questions can be asked and that many whys can never be answered. As a result, I tried to work things out for myself by mulling over my own questions. And I came to the important discovery that questions which you either can’t or shouldn’t ask in public, or questions which you can’t put into words, can easily be solved in your own head. So the word ‘why’ not only taught me to ask, but also to think. And thinking has never hurt anyone. On the contrary, it does us all a world of good. — Anne Frank

Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers. — Voltaire

How do I create something out of nothing? How do I create my own life? I think it is by questioning. — Amy Tan

My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, “So? Did you learn anything today?” But not my mother. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?” That difference—asking good questions—made me become a scientist. — Isidor Isaac Rabi

On Lent: Surrendering Ourselves

The reality is that I cannot free myself from the bondage of self.  I cannot keep from being turned in on self. I cannot by my own understanding or effort disentangle myself from my self interest and when I think that I can …I am trying to do what is only God’s to do. To me, there is actually great hope in admitting my mortality and brokenness because then I finally lay aside my sin management program and allow God to be God for me.  Which is all any of us really need when it comes down to it … —  Nadia Bolz-Weber

… another Lenten season, a time of lengthening days…not just in hours but in slowness, in taking time to linger over our spiritual lives, over our identity as a people of faith, over the texts that form us and the quiet places in which God speaks to us, still. — Kathryn M. Matthews

The big rub is that to surrender my “singularity” (John 12:24) and fall into this “altogether new creation” will always feel like dying. How could it not? It is a dying of the self that we thought we were, but it is the only self that we knew until then. It will indeed be a “revolution of the mind” (Ephesians 4:23). Heart and body will soon follow. This is the real “try harder” that applies to Lent, and its ultimate irony is that it is not a trying at all, but an ultimate surrendering, dying, and foundational letting go. You will not do it yourself, but it will be done unto you (Luke 1:38) by the events of your life. Such deep allowing is the most humiliating, sacrificial, and daily kind of trying! Pep talks seldom get you there, but the suffering of life and love itself will always get you there. Lent is just magnified and intensified life. — Richard Rohr

I think it is good news–because even if no one ever wants to go there, and even if those of us who end up there want out again as soon as possible, the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be … What did that long, famishing stretch in the wilderness do to him?  It freed him–from all devilish attempts to distract him from his true purpose, from hungry craving for things with no power to give him life, from any illusion he might have had that God would make his choices for him. … But it would be a mistake for me to try to describe your wilderness exam.  Only you can do that, because only you know what devils have your number, and what kinds of bribes they use to get you to pick up.  All I know for sure is that a voluntary trip to the desert this Lent is a great way to practice getting free of those devils for life–not only because it is where you lose your appetite for things that cannot save you, but also because it is where you learn to trust the Spirit that led you there to lead you out again, ready to worship the Lord your God and serve no other all the days of your life.  — Barbara Brown Taylor

But the historic practices of Lent are Christian. There are three of them: praying, fasting, almsgiving. These are three things that Christians should consider doing all the time, but the 46 days of Lent provide us with an explicit invitation to do them more intentionally. I say an invitation, because we don’t have to do them, not during Lent, not ever. … I am going to make an unabashed case for Lent, myself. …  Lent is a chance to uncork the bottle, to unclog our spirits from what is stifling them, to sample the mystery. It is a chance to own that we do not wholly own ourselves, but acknowledge that God has a claim over us. We work so hard for radical equality in our lives—for equal marriage, equal pay for equal work, an end to bigotry of all varieties—and we sometimes delude ourselves, as religious people, that radical equality extends to our relationship with God … Taking on a Lenten discipline means surrendering to a higher power, it means placing ourselves under God’s authority and protection. But here’s the rub: to place ourselves under God’s authority is a reminder that we are under no other authority, or at least that all those other authorities are less than God’s. The church, the state, our remote fathers, our overbearing mothers, our inept boss who gets paid more than we do, our snarky coworkers, the popular crowd, the opposing football team, the opposing political party, Al Qaeda, alcohol, fried foods, chocolate, caffeine, porn, late-night cable. Whatever our addictions, whatever our self-medication devices, whatever our overlords of fear and control, none can match the power of God our Father and Mother, if we choose God as our God. To claim that we are in a direct relationship with our Creator, to join with that Creator and Sustainer in an act of self-disciplining, is an act of resistance. It’s a boycott of all that is body-wounding and soul-killing. It is a radical re-ordering of our priorities, and a reclamation of our God-given will and strength …  … What might you do, this Lent, to rend your heart, to give God an opening? What might you do to make God-shaped space within your heart, a space that will invite you to call on the name of God more frequently, to share the experience of your brother Jesus in the wilderness, to uncork the Spirit and let it flow freely, to release yourself from rage or addiction or the tyranny of lesser gods? What can you give up, or take on, as an act of resistance against the authorities that don’t deserve any claim over you?  — Molly Phinney Baskette

LENTEN RESOURCES

Acts of Kindness & Giving for Lent
(guides and calendars sourced from several organizations)

Reflections and Meditations

  • Coloring the Psalms Devotional Guide and Coloring Pages.
    *Already printed and available* at front of church, which is always open. Or accessible as downloadable multi-page PDF files from Jackson Community Church’s website. Due to licensing, the link will be sent by email to all church friends and members … if you want to participate, and didn’t receive this email already, sign up on this site to receive our email and we will forward the links to download the PDF files. Or email us directly for the link.
  • UCC (United Church of Christ)’s Still Speaking Daily Devotional messages. Sign up to receive these.
  • UCC (United Church of Christ)’s Still Speaking Podcast. Sign up for podcast
  • Mindfulness Applications for computers and mobile devices from Thich Nhat Hahn’s Plum Village (in the engaged Buddhist tradition)
  • Jan Richardson’s Painted Prayerbook blog entries
  • Maren Tirabassi’s Gifts in Open Hands blog with daily Lenten posts
  • Daily Meditations by Fr Richard Rohr, sign up to receive these
  • Living Lent Daily: Ignatian Spirituality daily meditations for Lent . Sign up to receive daily email meditations and devotional activities.
  • Social Justice Lectionary: Downloadable guide to readings and activities surrounding social justice issues. Extension of MLK Day initiatives.

Reflections on ashes and dust: themes from Ash Wednesday & Lent

Ash Wednesday is the starting point of Lent. We are marked with ashes as we begin the season. We go from feasting to a season of fasting, praying, and giving.

Or perhaps we can think of Lent as a season of personal training, of discipline and preparation, to return to spiritual fitness. It’s a time when, through confession, we admit and wrestle with our issues, vulnerabilities and weaknesses … and get to know ourselves better. We seek healing and balance.

This is also an opportunity to understand that we are beloved for whom we are: messy and imperfect and broken. Just as we are beloved for whom we may become. Because the gift of this season, ultimately, is grace. We can prepare, we can focus … yet we cannot earn the boundless love toward which we are reaching. It is simply offered to us, regardless of how perfect or imperfect we are. Just because.

Ashes symbolize mortality, as well as humility and contrition. The proudest members of society, in many faith traditions, don sackcloth and wear ashes as signs of humility, to express sorrow, or to demonstrate a desire for reconciliation and forgiveness. Ashes represent, like “dust to dust”, our elemental origins and remind us that our bodies will return to the earth. Within our faith, we also believe that while our bodies are formed from organic materials, our living selves are filled up with and energized by Breath, Wind, or Holy Spirit, which animates life and connects all of us.

Traditionally, people receive ashes today, Ash Wednesday, as a smudge or cross on the forehead. We come to this season in a messy way, wearing our imperfection on our faces. Messy, sad, sorry, tired, angry, grateful, hopeful, happy, curious … we enter into this time of preparation, on the journey toward Easter.

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