A few weeks ago, I had a ‘near miss’ experience. I was driving to an unfamiliar destination and was running late. I was trying to glance at my street directory, as well as keep my eye on the traffic – multiskilling is not one of my gifts. As a consequence to my haste, I nearly clipped a parked car. I pulled over for a moment of reflection, knowing I needed to slow down and get myself a GPS.
One of the enemies of a well-formed Christian life is the foe of too much rush. Going too fast through life eventually ends up in relational collision or spiritual burnout. One of the arts of staying spiritually centred and balanced, is the art of spiritual reflection. At best, this is a daily discipline that includes taking time out for intentional prayer, meditative attention to Scripture and seeking both the refreshment of the Spirit and the discernment of the will of God. I find without moments like this woven into my day, I am reduced to being in Eugene Peterson’s words, “the busy pastor, rather than the contemplative pastor”.
Lent is a forty-day season for spiritual reflection. Sometimes people give up, or fast from, chocolate or television or computer games or negativity in order to better prepare the commemoration of Good Friday and the celebration of Easter Sunday. Other Christians also look for the positive in Lent and join a Lenten Study group – like Lent Event – or engage in a new act of service or spiritual devotion.
The forty-day period is modelled on the fast of Jesus after his baptism. As early as the third century, Lent was viewed as a devotional preparation season for the baptised and for those preparing to be baptised. It was the demanding climax of the early Christian Catechumenate. It was viewed as a time of repentance, humility and growth in holiness. Corporately and individually, Lent is understood as a time to give over to God in order to be renewed and recalibrated in the light of the cross and resurrection. It is a time to stop rushing and start reflecting. St Peter Chrysologus wrote of the three key elements f Lent, “prayer, compassion and fasting – these three are one, and they give each other life. For fasting is the soul of prayer, compassion is the life of fasting. Let no one tear them apart.”
According to one recent social commentator, as a society we are in danger of reflecting on the wrong things and in the wrong direction. Anne Manne in her book, The life of I; the new culture of narcissism, gives a blistering analysis on how our culture is becoming over obsessed with itself. Narcissism is the excessive exercise of self-love, and while psychologists argue about its exact meaning,
Manne points out how our individualistic, self-centred society is pursuing unhealthy and misdirected self-reflection (the selfie generation). Manne reminds us that healthy self-esteem is the fruit of the presence and care of others, and the focus of life beyond itself.
Lent in its focus on Christ and his suffering and resurrection, helps us to challenge the cult of ‘self’ and confront the potentially idolatrous preoccupation with ‘me’. Lent can move us towards Christ and community. May we be people who know the liberation and joy of a reflected life in Christ and thus radiate Christ to others.
Rev Steve Francis, moderator of the Uniting Church in Western Australia