How much time in our lives do we spend plotting and planning our days?
Perhaps your calendar looks something like this:
Book club in the morning
Lunch with cousins
Car pool – my turn to take kids to soccer
Buy something for dinner
Pick up kids
Dinner, homework, etc.
Finish writing contract
Meet with boss
Present new program to finance committee
Interview potential new employee
Follow up calls with customers
Make appointments for next week
Pick up dry cleaning on the way home, etc.
Or, if we’re past the car pool era and are retired, what about those endless lists we create, either on paper, or in our minds:
Clean & weed flower borders
Buy new plants and mulch
Plant, mulch, and water
Bake cake for party
Ice & decorate cake
Pick up friends
Box cake for transport
Drive others home
Get to bed at a decent hour
You all know the drill; it’s how we stay organized and survive our busy lives. And we have numerous gadgets to help us manage it all: calendars, day planners, computers, ipads, and cell phones with special apps.
Thus we live out our days, weeks, months, lives.
We set our goals and objectives,
We make our plans,
We plot our strategies,
We mark our calendars,
We write our lists,
And we wonder where the time has gone!
Our lives are broken into fragments and pieces of this and that, here and there, as we make our way along the rat race of life. In such a world how are we ever to experience a sense of wholeness?
Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of a journey into being whole. That is the invitation we receive with these words written to the Corinthians so long ago: “Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation.” Now is the opportunity to lay aside our lists and plans for this hour and to enter into the present moment. In this hour we can start the process of being still, stepping out of the rat race, and entering the quiet in the depths of our hearts; there, to discover the presence of God in our lives.
Recently I attended a conference set around the theme of discovering the presence of God in one’s life. There were many inspiring moments; however, there was one small group leader who drove me crazy. She kept talking about the great many God-moments she had in her life. Listening to her, one began to wonder, “What’s wrong with me, I don’t have anything like that in my life?” Finally, one participant raised her hand and said, “I know what you’re talking about because I had a God-moment in my life. The problem is that was twenty years ago, and I haven’t had one since. I keep waiting for another to happen and it doesn’t come. What am I doing wrong?”
Many of us feel like her, wondering why others seem to have it made with God and we’re out in the cold with our endless lists and plans. Unfortunately, the leader was stumped, having been challenged by a question that was outside of her perimeters of thinking. What she had never examined is that the experience of the absence of God in our lives is just as profound as the sense of God’s presence, for that’s when we get out of our comfort zone and our ruts to encounter God in a new way.
As Joel writes in today’s O.T. lesson, who would expect God’s coming to be a day of darkness and gloom?! Don’t you expect to see God in glory and light? Days of darkness and gloom are those when our plans go awry, the days when catastrophe happens, or death enters our lives suddenly and swiftly, the days when we despairingly say, “I haven’t had a God-moment in twenty years. What’s wrong with me?” So often we expect our God-moments to be days of light and glory, of Alleluias, and everything being right with our world, with happiness, success, and being on top of the world.
Ash Wednesday, when we mark our foreheads with ashes and hear the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust shall you return,” is a day when we are offered the opportunity of entering that scary place: facing the fact of our own demise, the darkness of death, the potentiality of not-being, our errors and our failures; but in that fear and darkness comes the opportunity of discovering God’s presence in what feels like the absence of everything good.
“Rend your hearts,” says Joel. Tear them open, rip them apart. Go into that internal space that never sees the light of day, that place where our secrets hide, and our sins lie unforgiven. There encounter God’s abounding, steadfast love, the glimmer of light in our overwhelming darkness. Whether our lives are afflicted with hardships and calamities or filled with successes and joys, like Paul, having nothing, we possess everything – when we open our hearts and lives to God.
There are numerous paths to encountering God, many of which are the traditional ones we know: fasting, reading Scripture, praying, giving up something for Lent, almsgiving; opening up our calendars for renewal time, putting time with God on our to do lists, committing to a new ministry. The choices are yours. The one I’m going to suggest to you today is a very simple path, the simplest of all, and available at all times.
Breathe – just breathe, intentionally. Breath is the one gift over which we have no control. We didn’t start the process, and we don’t end it. Breath is the gift from God that makes us living beings. God Breathes on us and we have life. Christ breathes on the disciples and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This same gift is ours today.
Lent is a time to breath, to listen, to feel and know God’s breath within us. Breathing is that most intimate gift that brings us into the depths of our being, opening our hearts (our secrets and our loves) to the presence of God. Breath is present in our darkest hours and in our most glorious days; it is the common thread that connects us to all creation. The breath we take in, and cherish for a moment, is then released to give the breath of life to others. The breath of life is God’s gift to us; it is a most intimate way to connect with God whether we believe we’re having a God-moment or not. God’s gift is always with, and within, us.
The breath of life is God’s blessing at all times and all places, and like all blessings, it is impossible to hoard our breath, to keep it for ourselves alone, or to withhold it from another. We breathe in, we breathe out; we receive the gift of life, and we give it back again and again. We don’t have to put it on our list of things to do to remember to breathe, we don’t have to add it to our list of goals, objectives, and plans in order to live. We can walk through life ignoring our breathing; we never have to think about it to do it! However, to be intentionally aware of our breath right now, to follow its process in and out of our body, is to open ourselves to the presence of God. To experience “now” as the acceptable time, the day of salvation, the time of blessing.