Ash Wednesday - February 14th: On Being Cross Bearers
"And take up their cross." That cross is already there, ready, from the very beginning; we need only take it up. But to keep us from believing that we must simply choose any arbitrary cross, or simply pick out our suffering as we will, Jesus emphasizes that each of us has his or her own cross, ready, appointed, and appropriately measured by God.
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his book: The Cost of Discipleship)
This business of Cross Bearing is often misunderstood as Bonhoeffer names in the passage above. It's not a matter of arbitrary suffering that we have to endure like when we hear someone say "Well, I guess it's just my cross to bear." They are simply talking about routine difficulties of life - some personal inconvenience. No, this is not what Jesus was talking about.
To do as Jesus says we have to pick up our own cross, just as he picked up and carried his own cross. Now granted, his cross involved his own personal suffering, but that was just a byproduct. His cross was shouldered in order to lift the burden from us. So our cross bearing is also purposeful. It should be done in order to shoulder the suffing of our neighbor.
That may mean taking time out of our busy schedule to see our neighbor, to spend time with them, to know at some real level, the reality of their suffering. And in the sacrifice of our time, they are lifted out of their suffering. Or maybe our cross is a financial one. We sacrifice some of our own wealth in the form of taxes or charitable giving in order that someone else may eat, have clothing, or have a safe home to live in. It may mean sacrificing some of our privilege in society so that others might have a fighting chance to succeed in their efforts to live a productive life.
Cross bearing is personal, it is measured, and it is purposeful. Are you ready to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?
Week 1: God Is On The Cross - Lenten Reflections
This Lenten season we are reading together reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer collected in a book titled "God is On The Cross." If you have questions or your own reflections to share, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday - February 16th: God is Not a Matter of Mood
"The morning prayer determines the day. Squandered time of which we are ashamed, temptations to which we succumb, weaknesses and lack of courage in work, disorganization and lack of discipline in our thoughts and in our conversation... all have their origin most often in the neglect of morning prayer."
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Psalms, cited in God is On The Cross)
I've been watching the Olympics and it is fascinating. Every event requires years of training and countless hours of practice to simply get to that auspicious stage of play. In events that have more than one attempt to secure the best score (i.e. snowboarding) athletes have the choice to either come out strong, making their best effort first, or to lay back doing just enough to qualify before risking it all on their big performance. I have to admit I love the ones who don't play it safe, but immediately press their skills to the absolute limit. Sometimes it results in a crash and a less-than-medal-winning performance. There are no real second chances and there is no time to be conservative. It is time to lay it all on the line. As you start, so will you finish.
In matters of faith I think we should do the same. Faith isn't just something we do on Sundays. Prayer shouldn't be just something we do when we have time, or when the circumstances of life press so hard on us that we have no other choice but to run to God with our needs, our pleas. It is far better to practice our faith daily, beginning with morning prayer. And if we diligently practice our faith (both prayer and the living action of love through service to others), then when the big contest comes we will be ready. And when the moment arises, like the boldest of athletes, we should throw ourselves headlong into it - prayer or loving service - holding nothing back. True, we may crash. We may come up short. But this will be the moment for which we have been training. Anything less would be a waste of precious gifts and divine opportunity.
Thursday - February 15th: Prayer
We pray for big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet not really small) gifts.
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his book: Life Together)
Prayer is not like preparing our wish list for Santa Clause. Prayer is not a one-way conversation. It is a dialogue. In prayer we both speak to and listen to God. And we believe that God both listens to our prayers and speaks to us. It is no small thing that God invites us to join in a dialogue with him. In fact, he commands it. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we know deep down that speaking to and with God is one of our deepest longings. It is the irresistible urge that wells up from deep within us, be it in tragedy or triumph. When we are most deeply moved in passion or in pain it is a prayer that wells up from our soul and bubbles over, uncontrollably spilling out of us.
Saturday - February 17th: Meditation - Listening to God
"To be silent does not mean to be inactive; rather it means to breathe in the will of God, to listen attentively and be ready to obey."
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Meditating on the Word, cited in God is On The Cross)
We don't do silence very well. We don't honor stillness. I honestly believe we, in our culture, have created a false god we call "busyness." It goes by other names as well like "activity" and "productivity" (which we often erroneously assume to be the same). We assign value to these qualities, and we attribute negative attributes to their opposite.
But too often our busyness keeps us from listening to God. We are so bound up in doing, in perpetually moving that we never stop. And if we never stop how can we ever truly listen, ever truly see? This is what the gift of Sabbath is supposed to be. It is a time to pause, to rest, to listen and to see. In our pausing, in our silence we can finally see what our busyness has obscured or chased away. Such silence is anything but inactive. It is an intense activity of paying attention, to listening, to observing - both God and our neighbor.
Be still today. Listen attentively and be ready to hear the voice of God.