Monday, The Third Week of Lent

With so much change happening so rapidly in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is hard not to feel some resistance to the social distancing measures being encouraged and enforced. I am encountering surprising pockets of resistance in my own soul! All of this brings to mind the word from Isaiah 30:15:

    For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
     in returning and rest you shall be saved;
     in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
     But you refused.

At one point in Israel’s national life, the Lord sent a word through the prophet Isaiah admonishing them to return, to rest, to fully embrace quietness and trust. Then as now we resist this invitation. In anxious times we want to act and react — not rest quietly and wait for the Lord’s salvation. How do we cultivate the capacity for return, rest, quietness and trust?

One of the books that many of us are reading this Lent has provided me with some insight I’d like to share as we enter our third week of Lent. In his book, The Common Rule, Justin Whitmel Early describes 8 daily and weekly spiritual habits that seek “to make the rigorous demands of the gospel practical in daily life” (St. Benedict). Four of these habits are what Whitmel Early refers to as “habits of resistance”: Scripture before phone; fasting; phone off one hour a day; curate media (limiting both the hours and the sources of media consumption). He writes:

“When we practice resistance, we acknowledge that evil and suffering are very real, though they aren’t how the world was made to be. Our world is full of a thousand invisible habits of fear, anger, anxiety, and envy that we unconsciously and consciously adopt. Should we do nothing, we will be taught to love the very things that tear us apart... But remember that resistance has a purpose: love. The habits of resistance aren’t supposed to shield you from the world but to turn you toward it.” (The Common Rule, pg. 28).

The purpose of these habits is not to banish resistance from our lives – it is to redirect it. Whitmel Early’s suggested habits train us to resist those external influences that stoke the fires of fear, anger, anxiety or envy in our lives - in order to flame the fire of our love for God and neighbor. Did you catch that? The resistance we feel is not a problem. The challenge is to direct our natural resistance in ways that love God and neighbor – ways that limit the influence of fear, anger, anxiety or envy.

One habit that I’ve already mentioned this Lent – Scripture before phone – has been a soul saver these past few weeks. Tonight, as our small group had a Zoom Call (video conference) to discuss Whitmel Early’s book, I was struck by how the other habits refocus possible reactions in the latest round of social distancing restrictions. Fasting, for example, rather than hording in fear or eating out – or turning off our phone for an hour a day and curating media to limit information overload. These are a few of the spiritual habits that Whitmel Early describes – you may know of others.

I encourage all of us to ask Jesus to teach us, in this third week of Lent, a spiritual habit that resists the “thousand invisible habits of fear, anger, anxiety and envy” – to give us the grace to embrace in quiet trust the strength of the Lord.

In quietness and trust along with you,

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