The Light Grows and We Are Called to Go Deeper

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February is the shortest month of the year. And that’s a good thing, because it tends to be a rough few weeks.
Not to belabor the point, but February is not the brightest of seasons. Our weather teeters between dismal and abysmal most days. Winter has outlived its charm. A rampant cold and flu season has made us suspicious of one another, and we’re reluctant to venture out more than we have to. St. Valentine’s Day can be bitter sweet, and the life and vitality of spring seems far away.
If that were not enough, February begins the church’s season of Lent. Although its name—from Latin—hints at the lengthening of days because of added sunlight, it is typically experienced as a Holy season of somber contemplation on Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness. It is a time when we declare our humanity while we are reminded of the ancient, sacred words: “Remember that you are from dust, and to dust you shall return.” We are mindful of our true nature as we walk in solidarity with Christ to the Cross. Jesus is the Way through suffering, to death and ultimately to resurrection. Ash Wednesday, on February 14th, begins this journey.
I doubt that I am alone when I state that this feels cumbersome and heavy.
The season of Lent—that is, the 6-week period of preparation for Christ’s Passion and the Resurrection at Easter—was the church’s first ‘holiday.’ To early Christians, this period was more important than the other ‘markers’ of the faith because it demanded a penitent heart, and a willingness to walk humbly with God.
While the sleet and freezing rain poured down on our mountains this past Sunday, Kelly read from Psalm 51 in worship. Verse 17 captures well the purpose of Lent:
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Yes, in order for God to “create in us a clean heart and to put a new and right spirit within us,” we must come to God without guile and with transparency.
Even though the timing of this season of preparation for the cross compounds the darkness and shadow that we experience in late winter, a greater communion with God does not require solemnity and sorrow at all times. Instead of throwing ourselves into the grey, angst-filled corridors of repentance to experience God’s presence, we can envision that God wants to use these coming weeks as a time where our relationship with Him can be deepened. By allowing ourselves to be stilled like a ripple-free pond in a glen, God can reach deep within our souls to fill us with the strength of his presence and to truly be our God.  
While disciplines of sacrifice, fasting and abstinence are hallmarks of Lent, consider the following life-giving ways to deepen your relationship with God during the next weeks:
1.) Attend worship even when you are inclined to remain in the sanctuary of your home. As a people of the resurrection, Sunday will always be a feast day—that is, a day of celebration. Join your church family as we worship together with praise and thanksgiving on our lips and in our hearts. Being with your church family will do your soul some good.
2.) Get outside in nature. Admire the power of God’s creation in the swollen rivers and gushing waterfalls. See the life that God grants creation in the rich evergreens. Notice how they are vibrant, even in the dark of winter.
3.) Practice kindness to a stranger. Buy the coffee of the person behind you in line. Return someone’s grocery cart for them. Volunteer at the animal shelter and thank the staff. Give notes of encouragement for those who work in healthcare.
4.) Choose to have a prayer time each day that is not connected with meal or bedtime. Pray with your eyes open, or while listening to music. Pray that God grants you a clean heart while you wash your hands.
5.) Read a passage of scripture each week and allow your imagination to embody what you’re processing by sketching, painting or molding your response to it.
6.) Call, write or text an old friend or family member that you haven’t had contact with in a long time.
7.) Go for a brisk walk and feel the life that God has given you swell and pulse, and be thankful.
Walking humbly with God during the season of Lent does not have to be a dark, sorrowful experience. For each step of the way points toward wholeness, health, redemption and joy. Lent can be the time when God’s joy is extended like the lengthening of the day and fuels our hope for what lies ahead.
The light grows and we are called to go deeper.