This time, this season of Lent is difficult, not because we make it that way through the act of giving up something, but because if truly done with great intention, it allows time for real death. I am of course not referring to physical death, but rather death to self as we relinquish control, quiet the ego, calm the fears and trust in God. Simply put, doing all of those things with intention is hard, very hard! So why? Why do we intentionally take time to allow ourselves to die to self. Wouldn't it just be easier to practice living a good life? We know that it is not good works and a good life alone that lead us into an authentic relationship with God. It is, however, those things coupled with the space in which we have let go of our own desire to be in control and the time that we allow ourselves to fall in which we find ourselves being carried upward by God's amazing grace. And the kicker as well as the blessing is that we have to do this over and over and over again not only during the season of Lent but for always. Fortunately for us humans we do not all collectively receive a certificate after the season of Lent that says, "Excellence in Trusting God" that we place in a frame and hang on the wall and then move forward to the next big accomplishable task in life. If that were that case, none of us would truly have an authentic relationship with God. And on top of that, we would miss out on the greatest blessings God has in store for us as we continue dying to self. In the process of this lifelong, cyclical journey, we die a little more to self each time and we are resurrected into our new life through God's unending grace and mercy. As we intentionally look heavenward instead of inward we receive an authentic resurrected life in Christ which is the true gift and intention of time periods such as Lent.
One day in Florence after climbing the Duomo and having a wonderful lunch, Howie stopped for a moment to check the map and locate our destination. As I glanced around the street, I saw a sign indicating a church monastery right in front of me. The gates to the church court yard appeared open so I decided to venture in. I opened the heavy door and was awestruck at what I found. The church was silent except for the song of a cricket somewhere in the corner. I sat down in a pew and took in my surroundings. From a clear story window streamed three beams of light which cascaded down to illuminate a single altar bearing a monstrance holding the bread of life. Time slowed as I took in God's glory here in this place and heard him whisper, "Be still and know that I am God." In the stillness of this sanctuary, I experienced God's presence. He had been with me all along, but the unrest of my mind and inability to move my "self" out of the way, hindered me from being able to hear his voice. The loud silence of this church shook me out of my own preoccupations in order that I may receive the true gift of being filled with God's presence.
What I find in times such as my visit to the unknown Florence church as well as in my attempts to be intentional about dying to "self" is that it is always in the being still and just simply knowing that I truly encounter God. In seeking God's face, we must realize that he is first within us all along. We must let go of and die to our need to control when and where we find God and just be still and know. As simple as that task may seem, it proves to be one of the most difficult things that we humans are asked by God to do. "Be still and know that I am God." As we enter into Holy Week may we all find within ourselves the grace to allow God's presence to be revealed in the stillness of our souls and may we also experience the gift of resurrection along with Christ on Easter Day