parkdale united church

429 Parkdale Avenue, OTTAWA, Ontario K1Y 1H3

March 2018

Pilgrimage into

Lenten Space


            C.S. Lewis points out in his essay, “The Trouble with X”, that we don’t seem to have any trouble spotting the fatal flaw in almost everyone we meet, even our family and our closest friends. ‘So and so is smart and athletic, but if only it weren’t for his or her....’ The problem, he continues, is that most of us don’t see as clearly that fatal flaw in ourselves. We rationalize away mistakes or weaknesses and focus more on our good intentions and the ‘positive’ things about ourselves.


          Rev. Alcris’ Lenten initiative entitled ‘Our Camino’, featuring the reflections on scripture passages by Parkdalers is brilliant. It reminds us that we all contribute and benefit from engaging with the Lenten season. The Christian pilgrimage that is the Lenten season is a spiritual bidding to engage deeply, honestly and courageously the kinds of holy questions that will excavate the truth about us; namely the truth about our spiritual life, identity and character; all else springs from these. This is true for us as communities of faith and as individuals.


          Holy gospel questions are a good way to ‘provoke’ this kind of journey. I say provoke because most of us do not choose to navigate this terrain of the soul willingly. “What about you? Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks his disciples. “What would you like me to do for you?” Jesus asks blind Bartimaeus. “Are you asleep?” Jesus asks Simon Peter. “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asks his disciples. “Are you envious because I am generous?” – a question posed in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. “What is it you want?” Jesus asks the mother of James and John. “What is the Kingdom of God like?” Jesus asks reflectively. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” Jesus asks James and John regarding their quest to rule with him. “Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus prays on the Cross using the words of Psalm 22.


          If we reflected...I mean really prayed over and took to heart these questions during our Lenten sojourn, what might happen in us and to us?


          Perhaps the most significant reason that Lent begins with Ash Wednesday – and the words ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return’ – is that theologically and psychologically speaking, the sober acknowledgement of our mortality and finitude, has the distinct capacity to clarify and focus our purpose for living. It also reminds us not to get too big for our britches – so to speak. That is, though made in the image of God and called to goodness and the way of Christ, we are bedevilled by sin and fear and rebellion.


          I am reminded of the ancient words of Cephalus, the elderly father of Polemarchus, in the opening chapter of Plato’s Republic:


                    I can tell you, Socrates, that when the prospect of dying is near at hand, a man begins to feel some alarm about things that never troubled him before. He may have laughed at those stories they tell of another world and of punishments there for wrongdoing in this life. But now the soul is tormented by a doubt whether they may not be true. Maybe from the weakness of old age, or perhaps now that he is nearer to what lies beyond, he begins to get some glimpses of it himself.


          The truth is: we need God. Not because we should be afraid of “another world and of punishments”, but because we want to embrace, honour and enjoy this life that we have been given. Lent is about spiritually, intellectually, psychologically, ethically, and emotionally discovering—or in the case of some>—rediscovering, how much we need God and how we are supposed to be stewarding this gift we call life.


          There is no formula or 10-step recipe to fully being encountered by God. Lent, however, provides us a tried and true ‘40-day conversation space’ where we can cede our fear to God and risk vulnerability and the frightening joy of sitting with truth. In this confluence of doubt, anxiety, tears, silence, discomfort, insight, new action and maybe even elation and bliss, we have permission to acknowledge like Job:

          I go forward, but God is not there; backward, but still I cannot see Him.

          On one hand I look, but God is not to be found; on the other, but there is no sign of Him…

           Oh that I knew where I might find God that I might come into His presence. (Job 23:8-9, 3)


However, even if this resonates with our experience, this ‘Lenten space’ is also an invitation to experience deeply and well the import of the Psalmist’s confession:


          Where can I go from your Spirit?

          Where can I flee from your presence?

           If I ascend to heaven, you are there.

          If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

          If I take the wings of the morning

          and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

            even there your hand shall lead me,

          your right hand shall hold me.  (Psalm 139:7-12)


What we are gifted to realize is that we cannot escape God and that it is God who is seeking us.

For many of us, it takes something beyond ourselves, or out of our supposed control, to precipitate us into this realization; this truth.

Consider the example of Douglas Coupland – originator of the term Generation X. In his book Life After God, he highlights a collection of short stories told by thirtysomething folks bruised and battered by circumstances in life and poor choices, and tries to make sense of the first generation of parents that stopped believing in God. In the book, Coupland includes something of his own story. Having a materially abundant upbringing that “rendered any discussion of transcendental ideas pointless” he comes to describe himself as a “broken person.” He writes:


I have an unsecure and vaguely crappy job with an amoral corporation so that I don’t have to worry about money. I put up with halfway relationships so as not to have to worry about loneliness. I have lost the ability to recapture the purer feelings of my younger years in exchange for a streamlined narrow-mindedness that I assumed would propel me to ‘the top’. What a joke!


 He begins to suspect that there is a budding unknown secret that is trying to reveal itself to him. Finally he gives into it:


“Now – here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God – that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.


Come with me...or rather, let us go with God deep into this Lenten space and be grasped by the awesome heart and womb of God.


Lenten grace and joy to you

Your fellow sojourner