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Monday, March 4, 2013

Sharing Our Burdens With God - Lenten Journey

It has been over a month since I last made an entry here. A lot has happened. I was supposed to leave for AZ on Feb 5th, but became very ill and had to postpone my trip until the following Monday. I was still weak and rested most of the first week in AZ.

Then Ted, my husband, and his sister and brother-in-law arrived for a week long visit. Elisa and Randy participated in the Old Lost Dutchman Mine marathon in Apache Junction, AZ, near Phoenix. We had a beautiful weekend there and all traveled back to Tubac, only to be met by cold and periods of rain and some snow. 
I had a few days to clean up and prepare for a friend who came for a week's visit, and is leaving later today. So I have had little time to write.

So where do I begin? The most emotion-filled moment in this past month occured on Ash Wednesday. I attended a women's Bible study from church, and as part of our opening worship, was asked to read a passage from the Presbyterian Women's "Minute for Missions" devotional book.

Wednesday, February 13
Minute for Mission: Ash Wednesday

Our pastor passed out small pieces of paper and pencils as we gathered around a table at the front of the sanctuary. On the table were a large bowl, a small container of ashes, and a flask of oil. We sang and prayed in the candlelight, calling the Holy Spirit into our midst. Then our pastor asked us to consider what burdens we had come into God’s presence carrying. What burdens of anger, pain, or disappointment might be keeping us from being able to follow in Christ’s footsteps? He asked us to write these burdens on our pieces of paper and to pray over them.The burden that came to my mind was my inability to forgive a friend who had hurt me. I knew that the grudge I was holding was keeping me from fullness of life in Christ. I prayed that God would forgive me for my hard-heartedness and allow me to release my hurt and anger. I had to free myself from the desire to judge my friend and allow God to show mercy to us both. As I prayed, I realized that this would be my Lenten journey: to learn to empty out my tendency to judge and allow my heart to be filled with compassion.The pastor lit a small flame by the bowl and invited us to burn our papers in the flame and drop them into the bowl. As each one of us allowed the flames to consume our burdens, they fell together into the bottom of the bowl. Silently our pastor mixed these ashes with the palm ashes from the container and oil from the flask. As we received the ashes on our foreheads, I was keenly aware that in this mark of Christ each of us was carrying a small part of each other’s burdens. No longer separated from Christ by them, and united in Christ with each other, we began our Lenten journey.Cynthia Reggio, M.Div., Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, 2012

I am generally not one who becomes easily tearful, but I had difficulty finishing reading this entry. I was touched by simple ritual that gave a concrete expression to deep feelings of guilt and shame and a way to redeem the feelings by giving them to God.

But there was clearly something much deeper being touched in me personally.

After three weeks of reflection, I have thought about two memories. The first one has to do with the burden Cynthia Reggio, the author, shared. In the late 70's, my husband and I were part of a house church. The group was very different in background and life experience than Ted and I, and there were frequently times when I felt overwhelmed. I knew that God had led us to this group, and I knew that there was much that God wanted to teach us, but sometimes I wondered if I would survive emotionally.

On one level, I deeply loved each person in the fellowship. They were all very giving, caring people. They worked to share God's Gospel with our immediate community, with our city and with the world.

But there were personality clashes of immense magnitude as well. My frustration and anger were often piqued, and I often felt deeply hurt. Much of this frustration was focused on one particular woman. I didn't know how to interact with her without getting angry, and yet we were working together on a ministry that I felt called to contribute. So many times I prayed for the ability to forgive and let go of the hurt I felt. I spent a lot of time praying that God would change the other woman, but of course, little happened until I started praying that God would change me. Thirty-five years later, I can still remember the deep hurt, the sense of abandonment by God, and then the miraculous healing I experienced once I started asking God to change and heal me.

The other memory evoked by this reflection occurred in the early 90's when I was working at a women's residential addictions recovery program. We actually did a similar exercise. I couldn't structure it as a religious exercise, but I invited the women to write on a slip of paper the one thing for which they felt most guilty about their addiction. We then went outside, and I took an iron skillet from the kitchen and invited each woman to give her burden to her Higher Power, and burn the paper to symbolize that it had been lifted from them.

It was an incredibly sacred moment as each woman burned her piece of paper in the skillet. A few shared what they had written, but most did not. I encouraged them to write about how they felt participating in this ceremony. The next day several women brought their journals and shared what they had written. Many women shared feeling "clean" and "purged from sin" and "forgiven". It was a major turning oint for several women in their road to recovery.

So I ask you, when has God met you in a difficult time and led you to healing and renewal. Lent is an excellent time to reflect on these moments of rebirth that God scatters throughout our lives.