Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lent and Liminality

First Sunday of Lent ~

Allow me to share the following theology statement from our CSA Constitutions:
Transitions of every sort mark our lives. We try to recognize in each of them a graced moment in our ongoing formation, one in which we can live out the paschal mystery and build the kingdom of God. (#58)

Some transitions are inevitable in our human experience, some are probable, and others are possible but perhaps not likely.  Birth, adolescence, mid-life, senior life, death. .. are transitions that are natural to every human experience, given an average life span.  Even in our own community, we have had many transitions: Can we remember when we initiated de-centralized government?   We continue to encounter transitions in which we are invited to name our present reality as we evolve into the future. 

Transitions always begin with endings that place us in an in-between space – or liminality that is uncomfortable, uncertain, disorienting; there may be a loss of a sense of identity, and oftentimes we can experience a change in our relationship with our self and perhaps with God as well. 

When we face those times of uncertainty in our life, the scene is often blurry.  Things we were so sure of suddenly make little sense.  The answers we thought were clear now seem lost in a distant fog, and we wander aimlessly, unable to regain the focus we once believed we had. Our confusion is unsettling.  Doubt, like vertigo, distorts our balance as we fearfully wander in a vast and empty inner wilderness.  As we wrestle with the darkness, a rush of panic washes into our hearts, our breath becomes shallow and, with each question, the judgments seem to escalate.” (S. Doris Klein)

Here in our gospel, we find Jesus smack dab in the midst of transition – and “knee deep” in liminal space.  This could be considered his novitiate, or sabbatical time, a vision quest, or the Spirit’s idea of boot camp for prophets.
After Jesus heard God call him my “Beloved” at his baptism, we are told that the spirit drove him into the desert to discover what it would mean to be God’s Beloved. 

It is here in this wilderness that his spiritual, psychological, and personal inner strength is challenged by the tempter who is the master of delusion, denial, and lies, and who is taunting him to choose the “dark side.” 

Jesus’ desert drama is a struggle that will prepare him for all that awaits him in his public ministry and mission as the Anointed One.  He will carry no light saber or magic wand to ward off the critics, opponents, or enemies that find him too much for them.

Here in the wilderness, he has fasted for forty days and forty nights.  It is here on the margins of the city that he will wrestle with the demons of hunger, power, prestige, possessions, and fame. In his physical emptiness, he is made vulnerable in his title as Beloved.  He is confronted by the tempter to turn stones into bread – a temptation that entices him to believe that if his hunger would be satisfied with earthly pleasures – it will be enough. 

It is here in the school of the desert that he chooses  the emptiness of letting go of all that satisfied him in the past – his relationships of his village, his family, his simple life of carpentry, his privacy, his identity,  For Jesus all of the comfortable, familiar, and secure have ended.  He refuses to give in to the tempter of illusion and is nourished again by the voice and words of God - for his journey will be one of feeding the hungry in spirit, mind, and body with the bread of his words.

His second temptation is to doubt God’s abiding love. Jesus is challenged to test whether or not God is really trustworthy.  Jumping from the pinnacle of the temple would gain Jesus instant acclaim as a wonder worker, winning over the multitudes. But Jesus stands firm.  He refuses to give in to self-destruction and self-hatred and chooses to remain faithful to God, trusting God’s unconditional love.

Finally, the tempter shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and taunts that if he is God’s Beloved, why not be popular, famous, and have a chance to be a rock star?  This is a subtle temptation for domination and power, to become an owner of everything, having control of everyone, in charge of life itself.  The price demanded by the tempter for all the kingdoms of the world was to worship him. Jesus again says that being the Beloved is all that he needs and chooses faithfulness to God.

So what is the Good News for us? 
“To struggle is to begin to see the world differently.   It gives us a new sense of self.  It tests all the faith in the goodness of God that we have ever professed.  It requires an audacity we did not know we had.  It demands a commitment to the truth. It builds forbearance. It tests our purity of heart. It brings total metamorphosis of soul.

 If we are willing to persevere through the depths of struggle we can emerge with conversion, faith, courage, surrender, self-acceptance, endurance, and a kind of personal growth that takes us beyond pain to understanding.  Enduring struggle is the price to be paid for becoming everything we are meant to be in the world.” (Joan Chittister)

Let us ponder:
• As individuals, as a community, a church, as people of this shared planet . . . how do we face struggles with the hungers, illusions, and powers of temptation that confront us every day? 

• What struggles do we face at this juncture of “in-betweenness” and liminality? Can we accept the challenges: to name them, realize their impact, and consequences?  Then, how will we choose to walk with trust, hope, and audacity into the now and not-yet?
• What is the grace we desire at this time at the beginning of Lent, as we prepare to move through the paschal mystery?
• What gifts within our present transitions are we invited to claim?  Are we able to surrender to this time of conversion, allowing angels to minister to us and to nourish us with God’s Word and the faith of one another, letting go of the needs and desires that separate us from God?

So let us pray:
Transitions of every sort mark our lives. We try to recognize in each of them a graced moment in our ongoing formation, one in which we can live out the paschal mystery and build the kingdom of God. (#58)

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