I wrote this little piece about Lenten spiritual practice. I hope you find it has some merit in considering your own approach to the season of Lent.
By Bill Ryan
Lent- the Interior Movement of Purification
Through my practice of Prayer of the Heart these many years I have come to an appreciation of the theology and practice of kenosis as central to the spiritual life. I have also come to appreciate the time of preparation in the 40 days Yeshua spent in the desert and that any important transformation in life involves a period of preparation and sustained inner work of purification. In the transformations of grace and deepening communion with God our preparation involves an emptying and opening to allow the love and grace of God to come alive in us, and to heal those wounds and addictive patterns in our soul that keep us bound. So Lent is a time of breaking out of the bondage of entrenched patterns so that we can be an empty and receptive vessel for the Light of Christ to burn brightly. Simplicity is the true meaning of purification, being freed to be wholly given to our heart's desire.
The Liturgical Year- Our Growth in the Christ Mystery
In the liturgical year, starting in Advent we liturgically enact the Christ Mystery in our human lives. The Calmaldolese monk Bruno Barnhardt restates the central truth of the Christ Mystery from the original statement by Athanasius (3rd c.) that in Yeshua the Divine became human so that humans might become divine. This understanding of Christianity of Theosis (Divinization) has remained central in the Christian East since the time of the earliest centuries of the desert tradition and the early articulations of the Greek Fathers. In Advent and Christmas therefore we celebrate the Incarnation of the Light of Christ not only historically but also in our own inner being, the Heart.
The Fire and Light of Christ, however, remains a dormant potential deep within us unless we do the inner work of the actualization of "theosis." We offer our soul/consciousness to become accessible, infused, and alive with the Light of Christ already present and living within the tabernacle of the Heart or true spirit. This is the praxis we do in Prayer of the Heart. We unite the soul with the Christ Light of the True Spirit or Heart within us. This is our inner work in Prayer of the Heart.
In the action of kenosis we give our will and awareness to self-emptying, a liberation from all that is non-essential, to receive and live our true essence in Christ. In this way the words of St. Paul, "I live no longer I (the ego-mind), but Christ (the Life of Christ) lives in me.)." (Gal. 2:20) In our praxis we release from the patterns of a lifetime, and the residue and wounds of existence so that the space and freedom is present for Christ to live fully in us, to bring us to healing and wholeness.
Living the Paschal Mystery
This is the inner work of transformation and self emptying we do in our daily silent sitting practice and in the endless praxis of consecrated bowing in adoration and self offering in love we do inwardly in the middle of activity. During Lent we can bring a special energy to this work of freedom, the freedom to release from all that we aren't, to become all that we truly are in Christ. This work of freedom brings us to the Holy Week Triduum and the enactment of the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection. This is the liturgical enactment of our own death to the self-created, separate self, and the rising to the Limitless Life that is the Heart of Christ, our True Life. We become the lit flame of the Light of Christ. We can truly chant with all Creation as the candles are lit from the Paschal Christ candle on Easter sunrise, "Lumen Christi- Light of Christ, Deo Gratias- Thanks be to God." This is our true destiny, to become a lit flame of Christ's Love, and to live His Light and share it with the world living the compassionate life in the season of Pentecost through the end of the liturgical year and the remainder of our days in the human state.
As a child I was drawn to the liturgies of the Stations of the Cross and the practices of fasting that adults did. The fasting was a canonically enforced practice and the adults rarely understood why they were doing it. The notion of "giving up" something for Lent was done, but again without much understanding of the value as a praxis. We have just begun to explore a notion in the lexicon of ecological spirituality known as "voluntary simplicity." It means stripping away the unnecessary and burdensome patterns of consumption and attachment in our life in order to get down to what is essential. (No small task in this consumer driven culture.) This comes closer to the wisdom meaning of Lent in the liturgical calendar.
It is not the material order of Creation that is the impediment in our spiritual journey of liberation. What constitutes the blocking of our grown in communion with Christ is the attachment of human consciousness to "things" or addictive patterns as God substitutes, to attempt to fill the soul's hunger, craving, and emptiness. In the wisdom of the beatitudes it is the seeming paradox that in our emptying, as Yeshua does in the desert, that we confront the adversary of the ego-mind and the temptations to find God substitutes.
In our practice of kenosis we can come to find the vast spaciousness where the Divine dwells in our own Hearts, and come Home to our true belonging in the Sanctuary of the Heart. In the emptying of this kenosis we are prepared to become the vessels of the Life of the Risen Christ in our own life.
If we wish to make Yeshua our life, Yeshua our home, and Yeshua our singular Love, we must give ourselves wholeheartedly to the daily consecration of the undivided presence and will to become ceaseless adoration and ceaseless self-offering. We find liberation and healing from a divided life when we can become so fully given and freed from the divided life our attachments to God substitutes inflict on us. Regardless of our station in life we can all be "monos", monastics in the true sense of being fully consecrated to the Living God. What divides us from our deepest desire manifests differently in individual lives, but is something we face regardless of our station in life. The "consecrated life" is possible for all.
Given to our Deepest Longing
Our ongoing inner work of love is the commitment. In this way we become accessible to Love's gift of Self to us. Our deepest longing is this, and this alone. In this way the liturgies and the traditional practices of fasting and detachment can become truly enlivened. The Way of the Cross, as a devotional form of prayer, can become a profound enactment of our own path of liberation and transcendence.
Therefore we can approach Lent as an essential movement of our growth in communion with Christ. In Prayer of the Heart praxis we exercise vigilant awareness and release from our the mind's enmeshment with those patterns of living, of mental and behavioral compulsion, that divide us from being fully consecrated to the Love of Christ in all things.
We may decide to choose at least one habitual pattern to release from and offer up. At the same time we may also consider in what ways we can intensify our daily practice, possibly by increasing the time of silent sitting in prayer. For most people the primary impediment is getting to bed early at night so they can rise early in the morning and have more uninterrupted prayer time before they start the day. Intensifying or re-examining our vow of practice or daily rule of life can be an important commitment to make.
Choosing the Better Part
Yeshua tells us we must choose between our misdirected desire for psychological security and comfort and our true desire for God. Commitment or avoidance is an inescapable choice. We cannot do both, we cannot lead a divided life and still enter the Kingdom of unitive love. We cannot have God and god substitutes. We cannot worship God and idols of our construction. In the story of the rich young man Yeshua challenges him to give over everything to his heart's desire. (Matt. 27:57) His fear erodes his desire. In the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38) Yeshua admonishes Martha, not because she is serving by doing manual work, but because she is creating a duality in herself and is divided in what she is doing, and therefore envious and resentful. The "better part" that Mary has chosen is her undivided devotion, a devotional love that can be undivided in both activity and stillness.
Therefore let us discover anew the season of Lent and Easter as a season of consecration, a season of healing of the divided life, a season of renewed commitment. Let it become a sacred and spacious time of freedom and unbinding of those vital energies within us that want to be given and united in the utter simplicity of our heart's desire. We can choose the better part wholeheartedly: Yeshua, our companion, our path, our destination and our home.