Reflection for February 6, 2008: Ash Wednesday.

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Howard, Joan Blandin
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Even After All this time The sun never says to the earth, "You owe Me." Look What happens With a love like that, It lightens the Whole Sky.||Lent is the liturgical season when I am invited to re-turn, to re-new, to re-enter to explore my relationship with Jesus. Physically I am constantly in a state of change: growth and development or deterioration and decay. Spiritual change, however, occurs within the confines of the intimacy of my relationship with Jesus, with the Spirit, with God. It is the dynamics of the relationship that nurtures and nudges my spiritual maturity and well-being.|A Jack Nicholson character remarked, "You make me a better man." He was speaking about change he noticed within himself, which he attributed to the presence of another. He did not claim responsibility for his own betterment.|This is the invitation of Lent -- to notice and to respond. To notice how, when, where Jesus is present and active in the daily routine of my life as well as in those unexpected times of trial and challenge, joy and exuberance. To notice when and how I attempt to disregard his presence, to pull away or to hold back. To notice the humor and playfulness in our relationship, the subtleties and seriousness, the nurturing and the nudges. To notice the rhythm of our relationship; movement toward and away from the Holy. To notice and name the invitations and the temptations. To enter as fully as possible into our unique relationship. Then to respond -- a response befitting our relationship. A response that is gently cultivated by virtue of the relationship.|Lent is not a season of decision making per se. As the scripture readings tell us it is not about prayer, fasting and alms-giving for the sake of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. It is about my response to Jesus as my life unfolds in light of his life. Jesus does not ask me to change or to say thank you, only to allow him to love me. It is his love that changes me. The peace, joy and freedom of the relationship come with the living out-of the relationship -- living in the arms of the relationship. As a toddler learning to walk stumbles and staggers forth surrounded by the protective and loving arms of the parent, so I venture forth.|Jesus is the initiator of our relationship. He is the loving potter, the sculpture. If I let myself be the clay, I will respond to the firm, strong, holding, molding, comforting hands of God. Jesus knows me, speaks my dialect, and knows my world as no other intimate can. It is within this intimacy that I come to freedom and allow myself to be gently formed in his likeness. I can not do it myself. Gradually or instantly I am loved into a new creation. My deepest desire is to love in return.|My Lenten response will be unique to our relationship. Maybe I am invited to spend additional time in prayer -- and maybe that prayer for me is singing, art, writing, journalism, gardening, fishing, golfing, woodworking, scripture, liturgical services or being in silence. Prayer is that which raises my awareness of the presence of God in which I give glory and gratitude. Possibly I am called to fasting -- fasting from food, newspapers, gossip, cell phones, or social activities. I may be invited to alms-giving -- generously giving of money or myself to the poor, homeless, the stranger, socially needy, or to my spouse, family, friends, neighbors, grandchildren. As we read in today's readings, Lent is not the time for long faces or hypocritical manifestations of saintliness. It is a time of sincere relationship building, possibly a time of remorse and tears, but possibly a time of surprisingly rich deep joy and freedom -- all in the name of Jesus the Christ.|At the end of our walk together from the stable under the stars to the cross under the broiling sun to the glorious resurrection morning, may I come to a heartfelt appreciation that yes, evil does exist and I have compassionately witnessed the pain and suffering, possibly lived it myself, but also a heartfelt knowing that God never abandons me. And that I may live in unending gratitude for the gratuitous gift of God's love ever at hand.|Blessings on our Lenten journeys.
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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