As the daylight changes, as the blankets and mounds of snow melt, and the ground and gardens come back into view, how the perspective changes. We stay out longer as light extends. We see what was hidden: familiar plants along with trash and debris. Today’s scripture stories tell two perspectives: one in a garden, one in a wilderness.
That first garden was Paradise with everything provided. Amazing life with an abundance of food, pleasure, beauty, creatures and companionship. Our first parents had a life of harmony with nature, with each other and with God. They were naked and unashamed. Then that subtle suspicion and ensnaring question slithered up: What am I missing? “Did God really say you shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” “No, we can eat from every tree except that one. We can’t even touch it or we’ll die. Every tree but that one.”
The question slithered up again: What am I missing out on? What does this say about me? Perhaps I’m not really safe. Perhaps I don’t have what I need. Does God really care? Perhaps I’m not enough. Not good enough. (1)
Fearful, questioning, wanting more our parents took and ate the forbidden fruit. Then their eyes were opened and their perspective changed. It wasn’t the anticipated treasure of becoming like God. Rather, with a sour sting in the mouth, they realized they were naked. They had even less power than presumed. Ashamed, they made clothes to hide from each other, and then they hid from God.
In the gospel story, Jesus encountered slithering invitations in the wilderness: “Turn these stones into bread. Throw yourself off the temple’s roof. Bow down to me.” Like Adam and Eve, like us, Jesus was tempted. He was hungry. He questioned God’s provision, and he wanted control. Jesus was human.
These slithering questions and slithering invitations echo our core concerns: What am I missing? Am I enough? From our parents, we’ve inherited a deep fright and a tendency to fight. Bending over backwards attempting to make others approve of us. Accumulating, trying to fill an aching absence. Commanding and clinging, trying to grab control. (2)
All because we shudder at seeing the naked truth that we are limited and imperfect. This gets more twisted with our physical bodies. The slithering shame of not being thin enough, attractive enough, or strong enough is especially deadly. Our struggle is about being needy by nature. Our struggle is about surrender.
Perhaps God invites us not to fight, but rather to float. Floating on our backs as in the ocean or a pool. You know what it’s like. Lean back and let go. That’s the key: let go. The water holds us, supports our weight, if we trust and give our all. When we look up to see where we are or when we struggle, we sink. So we have to thrash, paddle or swim. It’s only when we stop trying, when we surrender, that we float. (3)
In the wilderness, Jesus may seem like an expert fighter, but listen instead to this model floater: “One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” In other words: It’s not up to me. I’m not in control. I’m needy by nature, limited and looking to God. I’m letting go. I’m floating in the ocean of divine love.
Lent is a time for changing perspective, for reclaiming the naked truth. We are dust and to dust we shall return. We are imperfect. We are needy. We are also fully known and fully loved. God already knows everything about us. Many of us believe God loves unconditionally. What really changes us is risking letting ourselves experience that love. (4)
Lent invites us to risk living the truth. So we begin our worship with confession right up front, and we kneel for full disclosure, honesty, weighted reality. God already knows. Naming it with our lips and in our hearts is a way of letting go, of surrender. Part of the challenge of prayer, certainly mine, is the resistance to speak with God about everything. I want to ignore much of my pain and shame. Yet acknowledging it and letting it be heard is part of how we are healed. When we do, it feels like floating, being released and supported.
We confess, and then we experience God madly in love, running to meet us, bursting with amazing grace. Lent is living the naked truth: our deep need for God and God’s great delight loving us. As we continue to be confronted with slithering questions and invitations, try floating rather than fighting, trusting God to support your whole weight, praying your pain and shame, letting yourself be loved.
Notice how the perspective changes as you lay flat and gaze up. Perhaps you’ll see more of what’s been hidden from your sight. Forgotten truths may resurface. So much is revealed as we float, float in the ocean of divine love.
1. Patrick Oliver (2012) All in the Flow: the enneagram’s gift to prayerfulness. Brisbane, AU: Patrick Oliver, p.34
2. Ibid, p.34-37
3. David G. Benner (2003) Surrender to Love: discovering the heart of Christian spirituality. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, p.60-63
4. Ibid, p.76
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