Our faith is crafted by stories, and stories, as you know are forever changing. The season of Lent teaches us what it means to live a healthy spiritual life. All religion comes in the service of health and wholeness; even the contortions and distortions of political power can help me to walk in the way of truth. Or as the thirteenth century Japanese teacher Ehei Dogen puts it: "In attraction, blossoms fall. In aversion, weeds grow."
It is easy to confuse health and wholeness with comfort and convenience, to dream of healing like a spa vacation where one is pampered with massages, meals a comfortable bed and reassurances. And sometimes, it is precisely that, like the fresh air that blows across the headlands at Commonweal, which, simply to breathe awakens the soul to hope. But at other times, healing comes hard, like quitting smoking after eighteen years and living day in and day out with raging craving, or experiencing grief at three in the morning.
Spiritual life modulates between consolation and desolation, the continuum of life, joy and suffering.
I invite you to observe Lent, or whatever your spiritual practice may be, as a forty day retreat, a forty day practice period. Find someone you trust. Seek a reputable spiritual director, not to slavishly obey, but as a partner in the wilderness of the unknown.
Jesus tells us that unless we can get over ourselves we will remain nothing but unrealized potential. He counsels us to break open like a seed in the soil and release the life within us. Jesus takes us beyond rules and conflict into a reality governed by generosity, which finds its truth in relationship. Buddhists teach that to study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self.
One of my favorite saints, Julian of Norwich, lived during the time of the Black Death in one of England's most ravaged cities. She experienced her own death and survived. She found strength and courage to look into the eyes of God.
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