Lent: first clearing

O let all who thirst, let them come to the water.

~John Foley SJ

Living Water, Madeline Rosenstein, 2001This week as we move deeper into the Lenten season and our study of Parsons’ book, we’re called out into our deserts to look for living water.  If you are like me, you may wander there often but remain restless and walled in by all sorts of distractions and routine, by circumstances you’ve told yourself are beyond your control.  Responsibilities.  A hectic job.  Mortgages, car payments and college funds.  Resentments and doubt.  Commitments and promises and entrenched patterns, paths you’ve been walking down far too long now to ever consider changing course.  These things affect your prayer life.  They isolate you from your faith community.  Maybe they stand between the person you’ve been and the person God is calling you to be.

Believe me, I struggle with all of these scenarios.  One of the most achingly painful passages from the Gospels for me is Jesus’ call for his disciples to lose their lives for his sake.  I tell myself, I wish I could . . so easy for you to say . . . I’ve become a wife and a mother and a teacher.  I carry the jars to the well and bring all this water to others.  How can I drop it all and follow you?  But when I sit here preparing this reflection, it becomes blazingly clear that all of these things we tell ourselves — the things that make us busy or unworthy or stuck in one way or another — are impediments to the joy, peace, love and understanding God offers us if we only let them go.  If only we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit continually calling us to conversion.  To change.  This, to me, is the Lenten journey.  Calling me to not only purify my heart, but change my thinking and develop new patterns so that I see myself and my relationship with God anew.  I know that all things are passing, and with patience and prayer, with faith and the hope that resides in the perpetual passing of time, we are in a constant state of becoming the person God calls us to be.  In the midst of your wilderness, then, listen . . . and you will hear God’s voice beckoning you to let go and come to the water.

I don’t know if anybody can be converted without seeing themselves in a kind of blasting annihilating light, a blast that will last a lifetime . . . . I don’t think of conversion as being once and for all and that’s that.  I think once the process is begun and continues that you are continually turning toward God and away from your egocentricity and that you have to see this selfish side of yourself in order to turn away from it.  I measure God by everything that I am not.  I begin with that.

~ Flannery O’Connor The Habit of Being


Behold, I make all things new ~ Rev 21:5

What are you clearing away this week?  How are you nurturing your prayer life?  Is there something standing between the person you’ve been and the person God is calling you to be?  Parsons writes, What change would make life feel a little more open and free, more relaxed, trusting and faithful?  In other words, how are you clearing space and turning toward God?  We are thirsty for this relationship but for lack of a better metaphor, we can get mired in wilderness, wandering in the desert with a half empty cup.  Lent is our annual invitation to make room.  To let some things go and come to the water.

To the thirsty, I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water.

~ Rev 21:6

Parsons reminds us that we often build up defenses around our hearts, defenses we’ve developed to protect our soft centers but that keep others out, including God.  What kinds of defenses?  Well, you know them.  Anger.  Resentment.  Fear.  Doubt.  Isolation.  Distraction.  Denial.  These, she says, have served us well, but Lent is a time to break open our hearts and reveal the vulnerabilities these defenses mask: by clearing space, we open a tender spot that we had closed off, and we offer it to God for healing.

Our time together with Parson’s book also coincides with the beautiful Gospel story of The Samaritan Woman at the Well, who encountered the living God quite unexpectedly while doing her daily chores.  Let us not forget, either, that the unnamed woman was an outcast, forced to fetch water in the sweltering heat at midday when she knew she would not have to face the judgment of others.  Living with fear and shame for things she had done and no doubt accustomed to being shunned and ignored, she is caught by surprise when the stranger speaks to her there and asks her for a drink.  We know she gets much more than the water she came for, for she leaves her jar at the well and runs to share her story with others.

The encounter between Jesus and the unnamed woman offers something of an icon of the Lenten season and the invitation it extends to us. If we give ourselves to a daily practice, if we keep taking our vessel to the source even when we feel uninspired or the well seems empty or the journey is boring, if we walk with an openness to what might be waiting for us in the repetition and rhythm of our routines, we may suddenly find ourselves swimming in the grace and love of God that goes deeper than we ever imagined.

~Jan Richardson “A Well-Blessed Woman”

Use these questions to reflect on your own Lenten Journey.  If you feel comfortable, share your stories by leaving a comment.

In what way(s) might the story of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at Jacob’s well mirror your own spiritual journey, especially during this Lenten season?

• What are you thirsty for and how are you clearing space this Lent to bring yourself to the well for living water?

• How might you bring this water to others?

• Where this week have you heard God’s voice breaking through?

If you are making your way here for the first time, we are discussing Sarah Parsons book A Clearing Season.  If you don’t have the book, you can still follow along.  Next week we will reflect on Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 and Ephesians 5: 8-14.  Parsons asks us in the next chapter to listen for rhythms developing in our spiritual practice and to acknowledge and even welcome some element of struggle along the way.

One thought on “Lent: first clearing”

  1. Part of my spiritual practice this Lent has been praying with a very special book of hours comprised of traditional Prime and Compline prayers, scripture, psalms, and reflections from Flannery O’Connor and the book’s author, poet Angela Alaimo O’Donnell. O’Donnell organizes the daily office around key theological themes often found in O’Connor’s fiction and letters, and for me, it has been heaven.

    I tuck these prayers into my book bag each morning and tote them to work so that once I get to my office, I can close the door and sit in my easy chair for a few minutes with God. Just five minutes before I open the computer and begin preparing for my class. It is enough space, and when I forget the book, I miss it. In the evenings I am pressed for time alone with this book, and when I sense a threat of interruption, I struggle with grumbling and try to remain focused. Maybe I should grab a flashlight and go out into the yard under the stars or wander down the street and into our neighborhood park. I will think on that . . . evening prayer time . . . .

    Today is Thursday, a day devoted to “The Mystery of Incarnation,” and since earlier this week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation, I want to share some of the selections from the morning’s daily meditation with you:

    Gospel Meditation: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5

    from Psalm 139: In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you.

    Reading: Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35

    Prayer of Reflection and Thanksgiving: I thank you for the gift of creation, which bodies forth your goodness and bounty, and for the gift of my five senses, which enable me to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell the beauty of the universe in its multitudinous forms.

    I thank you for the gift of beauty, which inspires in human beings the desire to answer your beauty with creations of their own, making us all artists of the beautiful in imitation of our Maker.

    I thank you for the gift of my fellow human beings, each of whom is made in your image and likeness and whose presence, thus, invites me to contemplation of you.

    I thank you, Lord, for the central mystery of the Incarnation of God in the world, made manifest to us through the real presence of Christ, both once and forever.

    This is a Mystery, Lord, too great for my understanding. Yet I thank you for the continual joy and daily wonder that it brings as I ponder your wonders in my heart.


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