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THE JOURNEY TO JOY

Twenty years ago when I was interviewing with The Reverend Michael Cunningham to become part of his EFM group at the Cathedral Center in Los Angeles, he said something that remains with me to this day. He said that over the four-years of Education for Ministry I would learn a lot, but more importantly I would un-learn a lot – that some of what I held as true would prove to be less meaningful. He went on to say that at the end of those four years if I discovered just one or two things about scripture to be absolutely true for me, then I could make a beginning. That wisdom sounded profound and prophetic, and it was. Today I have found a number of absolute truths for me, both within scripture and beyond.  One of them is today’s teaching from Jesus:  

 

‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

 

Some translations read: “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”  That feels even more right.

 

The reason this resonates so deeply for me is that I spent twenty-five years of my adult life chasing the world and running from myself in my addiction. Now, for the past twenty-six years, I have discovered profound truth in my recovery. I have found the narrow gate that leads to life.  

 

This year was my twenty-fifth trip through the liturgical year, and each time the experience becomes wider and deeper in its import upon my life, and this year is exception. Much like the journey of learning and unlearning that Reverend Michael introduced me to all those years ago, my Lenten experience has changed and taken on new meaning as the years have passed.

 

On Ash Wednesday, our friend Delia and I were talking a bit about Lenten practices and disciplines. I thought about St. Benedict’s Rule of Life and his instruction that it should be “nothing harsh, nothing burdensome” In that spirit I mentioned that my approach this Lent would be that I would fast or not fast. I would pray or not pray. Some days I might meditate and other days I would not. I would wear the forty days of Lent as a loose garment, knowing that it’s not about proving myself to God because there is nothing left to prove. God already knows my intention and desire for her love.

 

For me, I have discovered that the Lenten practices and disciplines leading into Holy Week and Easter are a sort of house cleaning that can prepare ourselves and posture our hearts in hospitality for God’s love and joy. You heard it right. Contrary to the penitential feel of Lent, which is surely an important part of the experience, it is also, in a very real way, a journey to joy. After all, what follows Lent and Holy Week is the joy of Easter.

 

I think A Vision For You taken from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous captures the spirit of Lent:

 

Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to God and to others. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.”

 

That is a roadmap for Lent if I ever heard one.

 

Here’s another from the sacred text from our Buddhist friends:

 

Let me respectfully remind you: Life and Death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each one of us should strive to awaken, awaken, awaken. Take heed. Do not squander your life.

 

This jewel from the Evening Gathta speaks to our mortality, urgency, and a call to intention that is not reserved just for a time of year but is recited every evening in many Buddhist monasteries.

 

I hear many people speak of giving up something for Lent. How about we give up our egoic self – our false self – with all of its blind curves and trap doors. What if we ask God to help us become free of our character shortcomings that block us from the freedom to experience the Divine nature of love and joy in our lives? Maybe we give-in to Divine Love instead of trying to orchestrate it through practices and disciplines that can all too often feel empty and irrelevant. How about we truly allow ourselves to be led by the heart and its natural yearning for the Divine and know that, as Thomas Merton said, our simple desire to please God indeed pleases God.  

 

A wise monk once told me that joy is the mark of holiness. Let’s strive for joy and leave the rest to God.

 

Brother Dennis




 

 

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