Hey Bloom family (and anyone else listening in) –
If the snowstorm hadn’t knocked out our gathering on Sunday night, we would have met together as usual and I would have had the pleasure of getting our Lenten journey rolling with a meditation on a marvelous little text: Mark 1:9-15–A text that, in my opinion, has great significance on the appropriate ethos for our pilgrimage to Easter.
The story is simple enough. Jesus is baptized. The heavens break open and the Father declares his affirmation of the Son. The Spirit descends. Jesus is sent into the wilderness to be tempted, and emerges preaching and demonstrating the kingdom of God.
If you listen closely, you can hear echoes of a much, much older story–of Noah and his ark. A story in which Creation buckles under the weight of human failure, and out of which a new earth, and a new humanity are born. You might remember that as the waters of the Flood began to recede, Noah sent out first a raven, and then a dove, to see if there was dry land anywhere. When one day the dove did not return, Noah knew–they had found terra nova. History could begin afresh.
Mark’s point seems to be precisely the same—in the Dove’s descent upon Jesus, who rises out of the watery chaos, a new earth, and a new humanity are born. No wonder that the first narrative recorded after this episode is the temptation of Christ–the New Man will succeed where the Old Man failed.
The reason that the Church inaugurates the Lenten journey with this story, in my opinion, is in part to safeguard us against thinking that the point of this is simply the exertion of more moral and spiritual effort to make ourselves right. It certainly DOES involve effort, don’t get me wrong. But what the great spiritual masters down through the ages have discovered is that the secret of this whole thing is learning to abandon ourselves to the New Man who has come to dwell in us, letting him exert his life and his energy in us so that our own humanity may rise to the Father. Paul’s words drive the point home: the mystery, the secret, is “Christ IN you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). From him and through him we find the resources to live in authentic freedom and hope.
As I’ve grown in faith, I think that I’ve come more and more to grips with this. Just last week I sat with a guy who had listened to my teachings for several years and said (in slight exasperation), “I just want to be able to pray like you do” (meaning that he wanted to be able to pray with confidence that God can and would do the things he asked). I tried to theologize a bit with him about that, and at one point attempted to make it as simple as I possibly could by saying, “You know, sometimes what I try to do–for instance, when I’m praying for someone to be healed–is that I imagine Christ laying his hands on them through my hands. I know that Christ has total confidence in his Father and command over the illness. So I pray through him.”
I am not sure the comment totally sunk in with my friend, but later I reflected on what my capacity to make such a remark represents for where my own faith has come. I remembered how, when I was younger, I would pray for folks and all the while be analyzing the “state of my faith”–whether my faith felt strong or weak. I don’t do that anymore. I don’t feel the need to analyze my faith. At all. Ever. I just pray from the Christ who dwells in me. I trust in and pray through He who trusts his Father. It’s as simple as that.
What I know now that I did not know in my earlier years is that the energy to live any part of our calling well comes from the Christ who dwells in us. Christ does not doubt his Father. Christ does not quail before the Enemy. Christ loves his neighbors and has compassion on the hurting. Christ’s heart breaks for his enemies and begs his Father to forgive them. I can live from that, if I choose. For there is grace for it. He dwells in us. And over time, if I choose to live from that, it will no longer be conscious choice. It will be habit. My “person” will have been totally integrated into Him upon whom the Dove rests–the New Man in the sight of God who makes all of us New Men.
I say all that to say, I hope that you will not make this Lent merely about personal effort. I pray that you will make it about the adoration of the Christ who has come to dwell in you, who is animating your person so that it rises in love and obedience to the Father. If you love him well, and rest in him deeply, and live from him and through him each moment, you’ll find yourself changed. That’s grace. That’s what this journey is all about.
Love to you,
PS – If you haven’t yet, be sure to snag my ebook “Only Where Graves Are” on Google Books. I wrote it to be a companion on your Lenten journey. Check it out here.