Archive for Lent

Prayers in the wilderness

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the wilderness this week: Christ in the wilderness for forty days. Moses in the wilderness for forty years. Moses interceding for the people so that God would not destroy them (pointing out to God that destroying his own people would look bad).

“So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you. And I prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord God, destroy not thy people and thy heritage, whom thou hast redeemed through thy greatness, whom thou hast brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness, or their sin, lest the land from which thou didst bring us say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land which he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to slay them in the wilderness.” For they are thy people and thy heritage, whom thou didst bring out by thy great power and by thy outstretched arm.’   Deurteronomy 9:23-29


I’d been pondering for a few days, and then my sister sent me an article by Kevin P. Emmert called “A Lent that’s Not for Your Spiritual Improvement.”  Emmert urges us to look to the example of Christ in the wilderness and use our Lenten disciplines as a means to better serve our neighbors. He argues that we shouldn’t see Lent as merely an occasion for personal holiness or drawing nearer to God.

While I might disagree a bit with Emmert’s use of the term “personal holiness” (I don’t think true holiness can ever be selfish), I do take his point about the social dimensions of Lent. He quotes from Isaiah:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Isaiah 58:6–7

Now, I have never been a faster, but I am a pray-er, and it occurred to me that I rarely pray for God to forgive others’ sins. I ask on my own behalf all the time (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”), but how often do I intercede for others in this way? Truth to tell, it feels a little cheeky, if you know what I mean. Judgmental. It feels like taking on something that’s not my job.

In Hebrews we read about the office of the high priest

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was.  

And we know that Jesus prayed for us, “Father, forgive them…”

I am not called to the priesthood. I am certainly not Jesus, but I wonder if, as we are all called to imitate Christ, we might not include in our intercessory prayers a request for forgiveness. Not just comfort and healing, not just the “let-this-cup-pass” kind of mercy, and not just “Spare thou those who are penitent.” More like “Spare thou those who are making the world a miserable place and who care nothing about you. Spare the ignorant and wayward and hateful. Forgive them.”

The one thing I know know I have in common with the high priest is that I am beset with weakness.  (Perhaps that knowledge will grant me the possibility of dealing gently with the clergy, as with all fellow Christians.) But here in this Lenten wilderness I am wondering about Moses and Jesus and praying for others.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…and please, God, will you forgive them too?

He humbled you and let you hunger

Simon Bening The Temptation of Christ, 1525-1530

Simon Bening
The Temptation of Christ, 1525-1530


“All the commandment which I command you this day you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 8

Temptation Christ detail Walwyn Flickr

Devil, detail Temptation of Christ
Cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral
Photo by Walwyn on Flickr

Devil - Detail Temptation of Jesus, Cloisters. Gloucester Cathedral  Photo by Walwyn on Flickr

Devil – Detail Temptation of Jesus, Cloisters. Gloucester Cathedral
Photo by Walwyn on Flickr

Temptation of Christ Gloucester Cathedral devil

Devil, detail Temptation of Christ
Cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral
Photo by Walwyn on Flickr


Landscape with Temptation of Christ Joos de Momper National Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic

Landscape with Temptation of Christ
Joos de Momper
National Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic


Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your habitation,
no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Psalm 91



I. Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.


II. Si iniquitates observaveris


Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit? Quia apud te propitiatio est;

If thou wilt mark iniquities, O Lord, O Lord, who could stand?  For with Thee there is forgiveness 



III.  A Hymn To God The Father – John Donne


Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more.


Listening for the call of God

Many of us experience prayer as a dialogue which we initiate.  We set aside time and go to a specific place and begin the dialogue.  We wait to see if God will respond, if God will answer our prayers.  But in fact it is always God who initiates the dialogue.  It is God who prompts us to seek him; it is God who awakens our hearts to desire to know and do God’s will.  So prayer is actually a conversation that God initiates, and therefore our primary posture in prayer is to be one of attentive listening. Rather than asking ourselves how and when we’re going to find the time to pray today, we might better ask ourselves how and when God is going to speak to us today – will it be in a quiet moment, through a conversation with a friend, in the words of Scripture or the liturgy, through the wonders of the natural world?  Our role is to be attentive, to be watching and listening throughout the day for God’s presence and activity.  Without this kind of attentiveness, we might miss the burning bush altogether.


Br. David Vryhof, SSJE
Listening for the Call of God


A dart of longing love


A brief meditation in a series of daily Lenten videos from the Society of St. John the Evangelist.




A small aside: I love seeing the passion, the smiles, and especially the hands on this page.

Making friends of lust and anger

So what do you do when that quiet time you’ve set aside for introspection doesn’t make you peaceful and centered, but only seems to beat the grass and startle the snakes? In Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen writes:


…when we enter into silence we encounter a lot of inner noises, often so disturbing that a busy and distracting life seems preferable to a time of silence.  Two disturbing “noises” present themselves quickly in our silence: the noise of lust and the noise of anger. Lust reveals our many unsatisfied needs, anger, o[u]r many unresolved relationships. But lust and anger are very hard to face.  What are we to do? ….


Nouwen goes on to say that, rather than reacting in horror and immediately trying to quash our unruly impulses, we should instead turn these inner enemies into friends.


How do we befriend our inner enemies lust and anger? By listening to what they are saying. They say, “I have some unfulfilled needs” and “Who really loves me?” Instead of pushing our lust and anger away as unwelcome guests, we can recognize that our anxious, driven hearts need some healing.  Our restlessness calls us to look for the true inner rest where lust and anger can be converted into a deeper way of loving.


We must be merciful–even to ourselves. If we are not, we risk being unable to bear looking at our fallen reality, or if we do look, we may fail to recognize in ourselves God’s beloved.



 “Forgiveness” –a track from TobyMac’s album Eye on It, performed with Lecrae. 



Led or driven?

First Temptation of Christ
from Champagne-Ardenne, France c.1170-1180
Victoria & Albert Museum


Each year as Lent begins we read the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. There are three versions found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew and Luke are similar, but for some reason, Mark leaves out all the specifics of the temptation and condenses the account to two verses.

There’s a lot to think about in this story and in the way it’s told, but the one detail that stops me every year is this: in Matthew and Luke, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, but Mark says that he was driven.  Led or driven? Did he jump or was he pushed?

The Spirit in both these accounts is one I recognize.  Sometimes the Spirit leads you gently: reassuring you, beckoning you to step forward. Other times, he drives you like Jonah to Nineveh.  Don’t even try to ignore the prodding, the Holy Ghost is not going to let you be, and he won’t stand for dawdling either.  It feels like the difference between “I want to” and “I can do no other.”  Not that we always mind being compelled to action. There is a certain reassurance in feeling that God is actually telling you something specific, since he is more often vague in his communications.

But I wonder about Jesus’ time in the wilderness. Did he know what was out there before he arrived? And why is it that Luke doesn’t tell of angels ministering to Jesus (a nice, comforting detail), but says Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” making it sound like the Spirit drove Jesus out of the wilderness?

I guess for me, this one troublesome detail isn’t so much about Jesus and his preparation for ministry as it is about the Holy Spirit and the way God moves in this world among us, preparing us for difficult tasks ahead.  Sometimes he leads and sometimes he pushes.  But if we respond to the Spirit’s direction, then perhaps he will take us to the place we need to be, to learn what we need to know.  I hope so—even if it is a desert.

Word for the day: Shrive

shrive  (shrv)

1.  To confess one’s sins
2.  To hear the confession of a person
3.  To impose a penance on a sinner
4.  To grant absolution to a penitent

Middle English schriven, from Old English scrifan, from Latin scribere, to write
Words that come from the Latin scribere include scribe, script, scrivener, Scripture, manuscript, transcribe, ascribe, conscription, prescription, inscription, scribble, nondescript, post script, and shrive.
How curious that a single word should encompass the confessing, the listening, and the absolving.  Shrive is the word that binds the priest and penitent in the act of confession; together they do one thing.  That it comes from the verb “to write” reminds me of Revelation 20:15.