We have begun the 6 week journey of reflection and introspection of
ourselves that leads to the Easter experience. I was reflecting on what to write when I recieved an e-mail that caught my attention.
I belong to a gay clery list serve and one of the members shared some
thoughts concerning this Church season. I thought this was worth our
consideration and offers powerful wisdom of our daily journey with God.
We are not converted only once in our lives but many times, and this
endless series of large and small conversions, inner revolutions,
leads to our transformation in Christ.
“WHAT ARE YOU GIVING UP FOR LENT?” This long-established custom of
giving up treats, chocolates, caffeinated or sugary beverages,
alcohol, or tobacco is perhaps the way we most often think of Lenten
discipline. And it makes good conversation in casual situations. But
we know it is surface stuff. Choosing to give up something good for
something a bit less is a play-it-safe strategy. Something tells us
there is more to spiritual transformation than this. We suspect that
playing it safe is not what Christ lived and died for.
Thomas Merton’s view, that we must undergo a series of large and
small inner revolutions, is a truer picture of Christian
transformation. When we choose some exercise for Lent, daily worship,
daily prayer, abstinence from one thing or another, it is not so much
the practice that transforms us. It is our willingness to change. And
Merton says the process is endless. It’s not about getting there,
it’s about being on the way.
Lent is our chance for a fresh start, a new page. We consciously let
down our defenses against the grace of God. We admit to ourselves our
need for improvement. We notice how hopeless we are. We tell God
we’re doing our best but we wish we could do better. We put ourselves
in God’s hands.
That is what Jesus does when he goes into the desert. He puts himself
completely in God’s hands. In Matthew’s Gospel we read: Then Jesus
was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the
Devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he
was famished. (My first thought: don’t try this at home.) By exposing
himself to hunger Jesus opens himself up to assaults from the Devil.
But he isn’t just performing daredevil stunts. He makes a deliberate
surrender of the will, a spiritual exercise. Jesus is placing himself
in the Creator’s hands.
The time Jesus spends in the wilderness is a time of preparation. It
is a kind of training. Jesus has a larger mission to fulfill, a
ministry, a life’s work. He is preparing himself for a larger call.
When we go into the wilderness with Jesus our motive is similar,
surrendering ourselves as a kind of preparation.
But how can we compare our little Lents to the walk Jesus takes in
the wilderness? Of course the gap is huge between our holiness and
his. We can hardly say our own names in his presence. But Jesus
doesn’t notice this gap, or he seems to overlook it.
The huge divide between our lives and his is a gap he is constantly
closing. He wants us to come into the wilderness with him, if only
just to observe at first. “Watch how I do this,” he seems to be
saying. “Notice these steps, this maneuver.” Practice, he is telling
us. Practice, and you’ll improve, without even knowing it. Practice.
One thing we can learn from Jesus in the desert is to fortify
ourselves with God’s word. When the Devil tries to goad him into
turning stones to bread, as a kind of power play, Jesus answers with
words from Deuteronomy, Scriptures he knows by heart: It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from
the mouth of God.” The Devil wants him to break his fast. More
important, he wants to weaken Jesus’ allegiance.
What can we learn from just this little visit with Jesus in the
wilderness? From watching him resist the Evil One?
We know, by watching Jesus, that emptiness is the beginning of
We know that we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for
righteousness. We know we will be filled.
We walk with Jesus to be purified. We walk with him to be fortified.
Nourished by sacrament and word, we walk through desert places more
easily. We learn to deal with our own gaps, our lapses. We find that
we can tolerate our hunger and our thirst.
We are converted not only once in our lives but many times. And the
conversion is little by little. Sometimes it is as imperceptible as
grass growing. But Lent gives us a time to move the process along.
Intentionally. By small surrenders.
Merton says we “may have the generosity to undergo one or two such
upheavals, (but) we cannot face the necessity of further and greater
rendings of our inner self. . . .”
Merton says we cannot. But I think he knows we can. That is how our
holiness grows, by small surrenders, without which we cannot finally
Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church and Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He was called to Atlanta in 1994 to pastor All Saints MCC. Five years later he founded Gentle Spirit Christian Church. He lives in Decatur with his husband Bill, who he met in 1982 while living and working in Ohio and legally married in 2015.