Holy Week reminds us of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. While many of us have been sacrificing or stripping things away this season, as a way to walk more closely with God, sometimes those sacrifices are not welcome or our choice. Where is God in the midst of our unwilling and unplanned sacrifices?
This time of global pandemic with stay-at-home orders has been a time of unwilling and unplanned sacrifice for all of us; millions of families around the world have suffered the ultimate sacrifice of losing their loved ones. In the midst of so much sacrifice, loss and grief…where is God?
The mystics often say that all spiritual growth comes from letting go. This is the paradox in our modern lives where verbs like attaining, achieving, and earning rule the day. No one talks about letting go and surrender with the same sense of accomplishment and pride.
When I moved to New York City, I had recently lost both my parents, learned I would most likely not be able to have children, and was grasping at holding my marriage together. I wasn’t working, and didn’t have any friends or family in the city. I was really stripped of all the things in my life that made me feel comfortable, brought me joy, or gave me any sense of meaning or identity in my life. It seemed like I was ripe for a complete emotional breakdown.
Within days after my arrival in New York, I accidentally found myself in a Centering Prayer group at St. Bart’s Church on Park Avenue. At the time I really felt like sitting around with a group of people in silence was a waste of my time, but I was too embarrassed to get up and leave the small group. With great ambivalence I stayed, and in that hour I felt the presence of God deep within my soul in a way words cannot even begin to describe. I bought Thomas Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart on my way home that night, and the following weekend I found myself on a train to my first silent retreat at the Garrison Institute.
We talk of Lent as a time of making sacrifices to walk more closely with God. At this stage in my life I had already made so many unwilling and unplanned sacrifices, it felt like there was nothing left to sacrifice. I had no sense of who I was. I had sacrificed all the things that gave me security, power and control, affection, esteem and approval. I was so broken down I let go of any hope or desire to change my situation. It was at this place of total loss and surrender I became keenly aware that God was present and living in every cell of my being. We hear this all the time in scripture, but for the first time in my life I knew beyond a doubt what it felt like. God was loving me back to life.
Those early days in New York were my days in the wilderness. The wilderness was harsh, lonely, painful, stunningly beautiful, and full of God. I would have never made those sacrifices in my life willingly. Fr. Thomas Keating always said, “Silence teaches us who we are.” In the silence I developed a radical and invincible trust in my relationship with God. This relationship was healing and gave me a glimpse at my true self. Once we experience that type of intimacy with God, nothing else compares.
COLLECT OF THE DAY
O Lord, in your goodness you bestow abundant graces on your elect: Look with favor, we entreat you, upon those who in these Lenten days are being prepared for you Holy Baptism, and grant them the help of your protection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
LISTEN TO PODCAST "THE HEART OF CENTERING PRAYER"
Click below to listen to the Cynthia Bourgeault series of lectures on Centering Prayer.
LEARN ABOUT THE GARRISON INSTITUTE
Click below to discover more about where Sharon spent her first silent retreat.
Click on the link below to purchase today's suggested read: Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating.