A Lenten Exercise

One of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner, encourages us to examine our lives during Lent by asking and answering some questions he poses. Buechner writes:

In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.

If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?

When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?

If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?

Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?

Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?

If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?

To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.

Meditation on Deuteronomy 26:4-10

 Dt 26:4-10

Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“The priest shall receive the basket from you
and shall set it in front of the altar of the LORD, your God.
Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God,
‘My father was a wandering Aramean
who went down to Egypt with a small household
and lived there as an alien.
But there he became a nation
great, strong, and numerous.
When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,
imposing hard labor upon us,
we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers,
and he heard our cry
and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
He brought us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and outstretched arm,
with terrifying power, with signs and wonders;
and bringing us into this country,
he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
Therefore, I have now brought you the firstfruits
of the products of the soil
which you, O LORD, have given me.’
And having set them before the Lord, your God,
you shall bow down in his presence.”
This passage from Deuteronomy has always been a favorite of mine for at least three reasons. First, these verses are about the providential nature of God.  God cares for us. God sees our suffering, abd ultimately God will provide for and save us in times of trouble. Time and again I have seen this in my own life and in the lives of others.  God does not promise us an easy life with no problems or trials, but God does promise to be with us through anything we face.
The providential nature of God is even referred to in the Sherlock Holmes novel The Naval Treaty.  Here Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has Holmes comment on flowers.  He writes:
“What a lovely thing a rose is.
He walked past the couch to the open window and held up the drooping stalk of a moss-rose, looking down at the dainty blend of crimson and green. It was a new phase of his character to me, for I had never before seen him show any keen interest in natural objects.
“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.” ― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Naval Treaty
Doyle makes the point that roses, while not necessary for our living, our extras provided by God to show he cares for us. Hand in hand with this observation is another by a preacher who states that everything we have is given to us by the providential hand of God.  Timothy Keller writes:
“If you have money, power, and status today, it is due to the century and place in which you were born, to your talents and capacities and health, none of which you earned. In short, all your resources are in the end the gift of God.” 
― Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just
A second reason for my loving this passage is it’s encouragement for us to give thanks for what God has given us.  If we examine our lives honestly, we will see that everything we have is from the hand of God, as Keller states above.  Therefore, we should from time to time, at the very least, show our gratitude by returning a portion of what God has given back to God.  Saying “Thank You” to God and cultivating an attitude of gratitude is necessary for God’s people so that we don’t develop an attitude that we are responsible for our own successes and well-being.  God is, and that is why thankfulness is a hallmark of all people who recognize that they children of the Eternal One.
The danger of not being thankful is found in the following quote:
“Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.” ― John Henry Jowett
Finally. the third reason I love this passage is it’s acknowledgement that we are “wandering Arameans.”  We are not home yet.  Our home is ultimately with God, and we are, to quote an old folk song, “wayfaring strangers” until we find our home in the divine.  Another old gospel song, written by Jim Reeves, puts it this way:
This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
Oh lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home then lord what will I do
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
So there you have it.  Three reasons why this short passage is so meaningful to me.  I hope this reflection will help deepen your own appreciation of these verses as well.

Isaiah 60:1-5, 6b – My Paraphrase

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, even though darkness covers the earth,
and deep darkness the people;
the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawning.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried in their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and shine like the sun.
Your heart will be filled with awe and enlarged,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.