In a prayer class this week, I found myself using my Advent Hope Rope to anchor me in the present moment. Between my left thumb and index finger, I held the first bead at the start of the rope. It happened to be tiny — so much smaller than the next and most of the rest of the beads. The leader had just read a reminder that Jesus didn’t call us to worship him. He called us to follow him. Before I knew it, the word follow repeated in my mind during prayer time and the tiny Hope Rope bead in my fingers at the start of the string left me wondering how tiny the seed of Christ’s call to follow was at the start of my life. I was raised in the church. So from childhood on, I knew I had been baptized and was expected to live a certain way as a baptized Christian. As I aged, the summons to follow grew louder and larger and deeper, until here I am today. Years later. Still hearing the summons to follow.

Which leaves me remembering the season of Lent — just around the corner! (Ash Wednesday worship is 3 p.m. NEXT Wednesday, 17 February and will take place via Zoom. Lent Bags with resources for HPC members and friends to use this Lent are on their way to each home even now!)

Historically Lent has been a time for spiritual growth.  New adherents to Christianity would spend the weeks of Lent in serious study and formation as they readied themselves for baptism or confirmation during the days of Holy Week. These were folks with the tiny Hope Rope bead first hearing the summons to follow.  Historically during Lent, long-time followers would focus more fully on their devotion to God; on reading Scripture, praying, fasting, or taking on another spiritual discipline as a way to increase their discipleship of the crucified and Risen Christ.  These are the folks with a larger Hope Rope bead containing the summons to follow.

We are reminded of the purpose of Lent in the Invitation to the Observance of the Lenten Discipline, which we will hear again during our Ash Wednesday Worship service:  “Beloved people of God, every year at the time of the Christian Passover, we celebrate our redemption through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Lent is a time to prepare for this celebration and to renew our life in the paschal mystery” (the passing over mystery — which we believe God does through Christ).  . . . We are “invited, therefore, in the name of Christ, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination and penitence, by prayer and fasting, by works of love, and by reading and meditating on God’s word” (Book of Common Worship, PCSUA, 2018; pp. 249-50). 

          This Lent, while so many of us are staying safer at home; all HPC members and friends are encouraged to participate in a ministry designed to assist in faithful observation of the Lenten Discipline.  As a way to deepen our discipleship — our following of Christ; all are encouraged to commit to one of two options during the season of Lent.  The hope is that these Lent offerings will provide a few different ways to incorporate the spiritual practices of listening, discerning, and attuning to God and others – gifts needed by us all, no matter how big our Hope Rope follow bead may be today.

          During the 7 weeks of Lent, consider:

  1. Finding and reflecting together with a Spiritual Friend — from HPC or from your family or circle of friends. Spiritual Friends are encouraged to connect with each other (on Zoom, over the phone, in person if both are comfortable doing so safely) 5-6 times during Lent for 30-60 minutes. Each week, Pastor Jule will post here on the Pastor’s blog (which also will be linked in Wednesday’s e-news) 2-3 open-ended questions for personal reflection and response for each individual to focus upon God’s presence in their daily life and their response to God’s presence.  Spiritual Friends will be attuning to, listening to, and discerning God’s presence in each others’ lives.  Ground rules that allow trust and acceptance to flourish will be encouraged among Spiritual Friends in order to create an environment of respect and hospitality for the journey each participant is on.  Participants will be reminded that Spiritual Friends are not to be advice-givers, information-sharers, or opinion-givers.  They exist to listen and reflect back what they are hearing of God’s work in their Spiritual Friend’s life.  A desire to welcome each other, care for each other, and encourage one another in bearing faith in the world also under-girds Spiritual Friendship.  Spouses and partners could be each other’s Spiritual Friend for this experience — a great way to follow together this Lent. A typical Spiritual Friend session together is to begin by the reminding each other of the ground rules, then open with a brief time of silence as friends listen for the Spirit of God at work in their lives.  From the resource Pastor Jule will provide, a Scripture or quote is read followed by an open-ended question for conversation.  Each Spiritual Friend then is given the space to reflect and respond — remembering that time together is not about advice-giving, information-sharing, or opinion-giving.  Rather, participants seek to notice God at work in their own lives and tell their Spiritual Friend about that experience.  A Spiritual Friend might discern and share back what they are hearing, but they will not seek to correct or control another’s spiritual formation. 
  2. Participating in Individual Spiritual Reflection – those who prefer to reflect alone are encouraged to commit to a personal 7 week discipline of deepening their discipleship during the season of Lent.  The same weekly resource provided by Pastor Jule will be adapted for those undertaking Individual Spiritual Reflection. The resource will encourage the individual to set aside time each week to be in touch with God’s presence and work in their life.  Individuals might reflect personally then respond in a manner that allows them to grow in their connection with God and others.  Participants will be encouraged to keep a journal about this individual process (or other form of reflection that is meaningful to them) and bring their individual reflections to service beyond themselves (e.g. with some sort of action in their family, work, or communal life). 

I look forward to the opportunity this Lent for us all to grow our Hope Rope follow bead a little bit larger! Consider now if Individual Spiritual Reflection or Spiritual Friendship will be the best practice for you so you can be ready to begin on Ash Wednesday. Contact me at pastor@hillwoodpc.org with any questions or concerns as you prepare to observe a holy Lent.

Blessings for the week!

Pastor Jule

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