(This was the second meditation for the Lenten Service of Motets and Meditations March 16 and 18, 2018)
In the Lenten season we are reminded that our mission on earth is to offer to others God’s gifts of wholeness, healing, and the abundant life. We are called to walk the way of Christ and to reflect the willingness to empty ourselves in order to be filled with His riches.
The Peace Prayer, sung by Canto Deo tonight, is generally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It has inspired the hearts of people across the years through its deep well of spiritual wisdom. It works transformation in our inner being by communicating the heart of the gospel.
As I read the Prayer of Peace, I find it thought provoking to contemplate the internal landscape of one who could craft such a prayer, one who could offer, verse by verse, the call to set aside the self for the good of others, to speak truth, to forgive, to encourage, and to console.
Historians tell us that St Francis was born into wealth, but he withdrew from the world and from the madness of the 12th century Crusades, dedicating himself to poverty and seeking the presence of God. Perhaps we might begin to capture the heart and soul of St. Francis if we were to, one by one, reflect deeply on each segment of the prayer as part of our Lenten experience. Which of our daily conversations, thought processes, and behaviors might we be compelled to examine within ourselves?
The remarkable surrender of St Francis is authentic rather than obligatory. This depth of surrender brings to mind the imagery of John of the Cross. “He walks on a path with only the light that burns inside his heart”.
The renewal, the inner re-configuring, and the self-emptying that are inherent within the Peace Prayer are difficult endeavors. There may be several reasons for this internal struggle. First, as humans we may have a deeply wounded or fragmented sense of self. Our tendency might be to armor, protect, and serve ourselves. Ironically, that which would bring inner healing may be threatening, or appear to diminish rather than strengthen the self.
The formation of the “self becoming” has been described by some developmental psychologists as a process that occurs in concert with the development of faith. Its foundation is a basic trust that is born from receiving adequate love in our earliest stages of life. We might envision a triangle with the point at the top, with trust and love at the foundation and the sense of oneself as available for what one writer calls “loving self-donation” at the pinnacle. The surrounding areas within the triangle include the sense of being in relationship in a real and meaningful world and both the capacity to be alone and the capacity to tolerate dependency. The development of the self, and of faith, includes the formation of internal representations of God that are based on the quality of our early care and early life experiences. A basis of love and trust allow the developing individual to image God as strong and gentle, rather than strong and punitive.
A second challenge for us in progressing on the path defined by St Francis is the distraction of the world, including that of affluence. Richard Foster laments that “God aches over our distance and preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to Him. He grieves that we have forgotten Him. He weeps over the obsessions we have with muchness and manyness. William Wordsworth expresses this same lament as he writes, “The world is too much with us. Getting and spending we lay waste our powers. We have given our hearts away”. God longs for our presence and he seeks us. Second Chronicles 16:9 provides a piercing statement about God’s faithful seeking of those who will align their heart with His: For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth in order to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is true to him. He is the waiting Father who longs to be present with us on our earthly journey.
John Bunyan, 17th century author of Pilgrim’s Progress allegorically portrays the spiritual journey of the main character, Christian, from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Bearing a heavy sack, which was his burden of sin, Christian encountered numerous distractions, including the Slough of Despond, the Town of Carnal Knowledge, and of course, the place called Vanity Fair.
Ultimately, through the guidance of Evangelist, Christian ascended to the place where the cross stood. The burden fell from his back, rolled into the sepulcher, and was seen no more. Christian was then “glad and lightsome” and said with a merry heart, “He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by His death.”
Lent is a Season of Longing and Peace. Just as God longs for our presence, we long for the restoration, renewal, and peace that are found in our quest for His presence. The core of our being longs for the quiet depths where God waits for us with eternal longing.