Deeply Loved: The End of Lent and Holy Week

Holy Week is over and my Lenten journey has come to an end. Tomorrow I will eat, drink and be merry. Christ is risen indeed! For the most part. Not eating meat and drinking coffee hasn’t been too hard. My Holy Week bustled with visiting relatives and I bent my resolve a little and ate  a roast with my family the last night they were here.  With the busyness of my week I found that I didn’t have the energy to do many of the things I love during Holy Week. My wife and I love to host a Seder and talked about doing it this year, but we were busy tuesday and wednesday night and couldn’t do it then. We didn’t make it to a Maundy Thursday service because I needed to take an assessment for a job I’m applying for (and my wife couldn’t face it with three kids in tow. Good Friday I cam home from a day of work (and fasting), had dinner and fell asleep.  But I am leading worship on Easter and have been working on music all week. So despite missing my yearly rituals, this week has still been sacred space for me.

Deeply Loved has been my devotional for the season of Lent. The 40 day format makes it an ideal for Lent, but the themes of this devotional are broader than ‘preparing your heart for Easter.’ Keri Wyatt Kent describes what it is like to be in relationship with the God who loves you deeply and she suggests “Presence Practices” to help you deepen your spiritual life. I found it fruitful reading this during Lent, but I think that this is a book that could be used as a devotional any time or season.

What I appreciate about this book is Keri Wyatt Kent’s graciousness. Kent challenges readers to partake in various spiritual disciplines: scripture meditation, reading, prayer, journaling, Sabbath rest, intercession, service, celebration, etc. Many of her suggestions will be challenging to a lot of people. But you never feel beat up by Kent. Her challenges are warm invitations to partake deeper in the with-God-life.

I also appreciate that Kent shares from her own experience of the spiritual life. Her reflections and “Presence Practices” are not commending a lifestyle left untried. Kent shares her own faith journey and the insights she has gained. There is a rootedness to her reflections.

Lastly I liked that this is a devotional with content. So much that passes for devotional literature is overly positivistic fluff. Kent draws on scripture and a number of writers on the Christian life to produce a devotional with depth. A number of authors I respect are noted in her daily reflections. I respect that!

I received a copy of this book from Abingdon Press and agreed to post a review. I also purchased a Kindle copy of this book and read from both copies, depending on where I was when I read it. I liked the physical copy better for this kind of book. There is space to check off your presence practice for the day and I find it easier to track with a physical copy for devotional literature.

Deeply Loved: Week One of Lent

It is just over a week since Ash Wednesday and I am settling into my Lenten routine. I am reading two devotionals through Lent. My ‘Catholic One’ I read with my wife. Last night she went to bed while I was blogging so I’m now a day behind. The other devotional is Deeply Loved by Keri Wyatt Kent.  I have agreed with Abingdon Press to post on this book and what I am learning from it each week. Normally I don’t really ‘do devotionals.’ I tend to read at a verocious pace and devotionals give you a small taste. And then tomorrow another. This daily measured pace is hard for me. It is like running. I like to run as fast and as far as I can, even if my body is stiff for several days afterwards. Devotionals force me to slow down and rest with an idea, practice or scripture.  It has been a good Lenten discipline for me.

I am enjoying Deeply Loved.  One of the things I’ve really appreciated is the tone. Each day has Keri’s reflections on a particular scripture and theme, followed by a ‘Presence Practice.’ These practices are an invitation to deepen your spiritual life. When I think about everything Keri is asking me to put into practice is is actually quite a lot, but it never feels like it. She has a gracious way of inviting me to deepen my spiritual practice without it feeling burdensome.  On day one she asked me to consider how I think God sees me and then replace my ‘gut reaction’ with the reality that God sees me with love and delight. On day two she asked me to recall Jesus’ loving presence with me throughout the day. After that she asked me to ‘slow down’ and prune out over commitments, review my day (intentinally pray the examen each and every day),  begin each day dedicating it to Jesus,  pray fixed hour prayers, practice the prayer of adoration, seek a spiritual companion, and set aside an hour to spend with God in solitude.  I am uncertain what she will ask of me tomorrow.

These practices have enriched my Lenten experience. I have not practiced all of them. I thought about the fixed hour prayer through out the day I read that one, but haven’t thought of it much since. I do not feel overcommitted at the moment (except at work but I can’t help that) so I didn’t prune anything out of my life. I haven’t yet found an hour to unplug and spend with God in solitude. However I have appreciated the challenge of these practices and feel the hunger for a deeper experience of God.

In the first couple days of reading this book I was reminded of a significant moment I had in Spiritual Direction just over a year ago. I was at a pastors conference, though thus far I have failed to find a position as a pastor in a church. While I was there I felt very small. Anytime someone asked me where I was serving, I smiled sheepishly and told them ‘nowhere at the moment.’ I was also taking a class at the conference where me and other participants reflected on the role of the pastor (Williomon’s excellent book Pastor gave broad outline to the course).  I felt like a failure and every insecurity I had welled up in me. I began thinking about my lack of experience, how I was bad at evanglism, how I needed to hone my adminstrative skills.

My prayer times were different. When I prayed I felt like God was pleased with me.  I remember reflecting in solitude on how timid I feel at evangelism. The verse from the gospels came to mind where Jesus says, “If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father.” In the past I’ve felt judged by that verse for everytime I failed to boldly proclaim the gospel for fear of sounding insensitive. But in my prayer time I felt something different. It was as though Jesus said to me, “You have not denyed me, you have staked your life on me!”

At this conference I got a moment to sit with a Spiritual Director and I told her this. She led me through a excercise where I listened to the voice of the ‘accuser in my life’ but then invited the voice of compassion. Through this excercise, her prayer and mine, and the Presence of the Spirit with us, I felt like God said to me, “You are loved and you are chosen.’

Now a year later I am doing a devotional  and the very first practice invites me to reflect on the reality of Jesus’ love for me.  I am Deeply Loved by God.

The First Sunday of Lent

The season of fasting has begun and since Wednesday I had no meat or coffee. Because Sundays in Lent are days of celebration I was looking forward to a morning cup of coffee (Sundays are in Lent but not of Lent because they celebrate the Resurrection). Unfortunately  I seem to have contracted some sort of stomach bug from my daughter which made for a long night. Coffee just doesn’t sound right today.

My experience of Lent has been good. Thursday was Valentines and my wife and I celebrated Thursday and Friday evening. I didn’t break my fast, but it seemed odd to be polishing off a box of truffles, wine and some fancy cheese in a season of self denial. Still the time was a gift (and my stomach didn’t erupt until Saturday night).

My devotional practice has been really nourishing. I’ve been going through two separate devotionals.  Deeply Loved by Keri Wyatt Kent has given structure to my morning devotions. In the evening my wife and I have been reading Seeking His Mind by M. Basil Pennington. Kent is a protestant woman and each day she gives a short reflection on a scripture following by a ‘presence practice.’ The first few days had me reflecting on how I think God sees me, resting in God’s love and remembering Jesus’ loving presence with me throughout my day,  pruning my commitments, practicing the examen and receiving the day. Kent seems to have a gift at presenting the spiritual life as an invitation and not a burden. I have enjoyed her meditations thus far.

Pennington’s book are also scriptural reflections. He presents a scripture and his notes from engaging that passage in Lectio Divina. I am quite certain that Sarah and I are doing this devotional wrong. We ought to practice our own Lectio before reading Pennington’s meditation. We do not, we just read. The first couple reflections seemed to be more about commending this meditative practice while the next couple of readings were more engaged in reflection on the life of Jesus (from early in the gospels). These short meditations before bed (followed by a brief prayer) are our nightly routine.

So far neither of these devotionals (different as they are) have much of a corporate dimension to them. They remind me to seek God and rest in Him but they do not call me to enter into suffering, work for justice and connect with other Christians. I assume Kent and Pennington get there.  Part of my Lenten plan was to also integrate praying through Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. I have not, but I recognize that that would provide some of the corporate dimension I’m missing.  So far my devotions invite me into a deeper experience of God but I have reflected little on the cross and Jesus’ journey there.  I have not meditated on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  I need to get blogging on the penitential psalms soon! Here is a collect for today:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan; Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.