We have just entered Lent, the 40-day time frame in which we prepare ourselves, through penitence and fasting, self-examination and prayer, for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Historically, those of notorious sinful nature, who had been separated from the Church, were reconciled by personal repentance and the community’s forgiveness. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we, through the symbolic act of placing ashes on our foreheads, recognize that we all are sinners, that we all are made from dust and will return to dust, and that we all are in need of reconciliation with others, both in and out of the church community.
On the off chance that a person might think that doesn’t include the clergy — that, for some reason, the clergy are looking down at or judging others, please know that we, too, participate in all of the above.
Many are not aware that clergy, at least in the Episcopal tradition, are involved in being under spiritual direction from the time they first enter the ordination process through their entire careers. It is important to have another person who evaluates clergy to determine that they continue along the straight and narrow, not deviating from the truth as found in Holy Scripture, and also are under spiritual direction themselves.
I am fortunate to have a person who, in addition to a spiritual director, listens to all of my sermons, evaluates them and my demeanor with love and compassion and is willing to be quite forthright in finding fault where fault needs to be found. That person is my wife of 45 years, Christine, who, along with me, is a partner in mission and in spreading the good news. Her suggestion for me in this article is to speak about Psalm 46, verse 10, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (NRSV).
All of the above listed religious practices, fasting, prayer, penitence, reconciliation and self-examination have a direct connection to our relationship with the Lord. All of our sinful nature that we need forgiveness for is in one way or another, directly involved with where we place ourselves in relationship. If we have not learned to live in a righteous relationship with the Lord and with our fellow human being, and to learn to recognize that the Lord is in control, and not us, then it is for naught.
If we can recognize that it is the Lord who defines us, and not us who define the Lord, that we are not in control, but merely attempting to live in good relationships, then we can start to allow the Lord to do his work. Being still is difficult for all of us, and takes a knowledge of our inner nature and desire to be in control, and let it go. To not take action or take over a situation goes against our basic instincts, but it can be learned and practiced.
As Lent continues and we work ourselves toward the great celebration of the resurrection at Easter, I pray that all of us can learn to be still, and to allow God to be the one in control of our lives.
Rev. Bain White, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church/Lutheran Church of Grace