Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Friday in the Fourth Week of Lent

The Face of Suffering

“… so that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Philippians 3:10

We’ve all seen it—in the newspaper photograph of a desperate, elderly man in the heart of the Syrian conflict; in a neighborhood’s struggle to understand how an eight-year-old could be shot in mindless crossfire; and in the quiet pain of a co-worker who lives every day with the loss of his children in a tragic accident. Suffering surrounds us and we risk becoming immune to it in the throng of the media that envelops us.

As I try to comprehend the suffering of Christ and the burden of sorrow that he carried, I look into those faces around me. It can be difficult to know how to respond to a suffering soul and often is easier to turn away. But by looking into someone’s eyes, offering a simple gesture such as a smile or a hug, by acknowledging a person’s suffering, I might help alleviate it. In choosing to face the sorrow of those around me, I may come closer to understanding what our Lord went through for us on His road to the cross.

Barbara Van Woerkom

Appointed readings for today: Micah 7:7-9, Psalm 27:1, 10-18, John 9:1-38

Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Thursday in the Fourth Week of Lent

What We See

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit around it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

from “Aurora Leigh,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Behold! We can only see what we are open to seeing. There’s more of God around us than we can take in, but we can also miss it all.


Appointed readings for today: Exodus 32:7-14, Psalm 106:6-7, 19-23, John 5:30-47

Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Lent

There Is Always Room for Improvement

Speaking to a book club, a member asked, “What is the best lesson you learned from playing football?”

Well, that’s a tough question, but one answer is what I heard after every game or practice:

“Men, there’s plenty of room for improvement.”

So, when I’m asked why I observe Lent and why do I emphasize its four pillars—sacrifice, prayer, meditation and study, and service, I answer:

“There’s always room for improvement.”

Our ability to bring peace in the world and with our neighbors depends on our capacity to make peace with ourselves. During Lent we develop a routine that enables us to bring harmony out of conflict about our feelings, our perceptions, and our mental and spiritual state. There is nothing easy about a Lenten discipline, but it brings peace within, and it makes peace in our world and the whole world a real possibility.

Besides, even if you aren’t successful, “There was room for improvement.”

Webb Hubbell

Appointed readings for today:  Isaiah 49: 8-15, Psalm 145:8-19, John 5:19-29

Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Tuesday in the Fourth Week of Lent

Taking Stock of Our Lives

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights.”

Matthew 4:1-2

For forty days, Jesus was tempted. As we mark our forty days of Lent and take stock of our lives before Easter, we too are tempted. In our very commercial society, the whole purpose of advertising is to tempt us. Whether it’s fancy chocolates, flashy clothes or sleek cars, we find temptation all around us. To test our mastery over those temptations, we often give up something small but visible—sweets, or movies, or something we hold dear—even if only temporarily.

But temptations do not come only in the “good” things. Sometimes they come in the “just good enough” things. We are tempted to do less than we can, to be content with a partial rather than a full commitment to some worthy endeavor. We agree to join a volunteer group, but then don’t put our full weight behind it. We commit to a course of action and don’t follow through after minimal effort.

As we take stock of our lives this Lent, let us ask ourselves, have we settled for the “just good enough” in charting a new path or paths for ourselves, perhaps just paying lip service to a new beginning? Have we set our bar so low that it is easily crossed but inadequate for real achievement? We can sometimes be our own harshest judges, but at least we should with clear eyes assess whether we are ready to be God’s hands here on Earth.

Powell Hutton

Appointed readings for today: Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12, Psalm 46:1-8, John 5:1-18

Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Monday in the Fourth Week of Lent

Stewards of the World

The relationship between the church and the world is a mutually prophetic relationship, which is a way of saying that each is sometimes prompted by God to call the other back to the covenant, or to the righteousness of God.

Sometimes we act as if the world is fraught with dangers that will lead us astray, while the church embodies the best of the human condition. The problem with that assumption is that the Spirit of God is as present in the world as in the church, and those of us who know and love the church also know that the church is not free from sin. I think it was that cultural icon, Ann Landers, who once said the church is a hospital for sinners, not a monument to saints. So, sometimes it is the church that calls the society to new understandings of the principles that bind us together in community, and sometimes it is the world that reminds the church of the fundamentals of our faith, and moves us to a deeper and more faithful response.

In today’s climate, we would do well to remind ourselves that political actions and political passivity have moral consequences. God made us stewards of the world in which we live. The indictments of the prophets are directed against the elites who were responsible for creating the structures of domination and exploitation. The Bible is very clear that God loathes injustice and violence, and calls us to do something about it. And that “something” is political as well as personal. Our faith, and our recognition of God’s sovereignty, is reflected in the way we organize our public life.

Faithful Christians may have different ideas about which challenges should be given priority, or how to go about it. What people of faith cannot do is nothing. We cannot pretend it is someone else’s problem. God put the whole world into our care. And sometimes it means we have to act politically as well as personally.

Carol Cole Flanagan

Appointed readings for today: Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 30:1-6, 11-13, John 4:43-54

Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Fourth Sunday in Lent

The Hat

My favorite children’s book, unfortunately out of print, is The Hat by Tomi Ungerer. In this colorful story, a magical hat flies off a rich man’s head, blows in the wind, and lands on the bald head of Benito Bodoglio, a penniless veteran. The hat brings Bodoglio adventure, fame, wealth, and, eventually, the love of the Contessa Astri d’Istra. As the couple set off on their honeymoon, the hat blows off Bodoglio’s head and flies “hither and thither…Heaven only knows where.”

When I read this story to children, I always remind them to look up: one never knows where the hat will land next. Good fortune and infinite possibility should be part of every child’s life. From my perspective as an adult, however, I find it best not to look up but to look around. What do I see in my life? If I sleep every night in a bed, with a roof over my head, the hat has already fallen on me. If I have meaningful work, or maybe just work that keeps me afloat, the hat has already fallen on me. If there are people in my life, partner, friend, sister, or son, the hat has already fallen on me. If I can be soothed by nature, transported by books, touched by music and art, the hat has already fallen on me.

Most of us walk through life with a fistful of good fortune, for which we often give ourselves the credit. But let a single thing—job, house, health—slip from our grasp, and the blame goes to God. “Why would God do this to me?” “How can a loving God let that happen?” How much better to ask, “What did I ever do to deserve so much?” How much better to view all that we have as a gift as inexplicable and wonderful as a magical hat carried by the wind!


Appointed readings for today: Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Saturday in the Third Week of Lent

Montrouis, Haiti

Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse— who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Growing up, I awoke each day to familiar trees standing in the Albemarle Sound. They are used as homes by eagles, as shade when swimming, as anchors for boats and canoes, as markers of how high the water levels had risen during a storm, or how low the water had gotten in times of drought. These cypress trees are deeply rooted.

The next time I paid much attention to trees in the water was during an outreach trip to Haiti. Each day we worked with doctors and dentists providing medicine and pulling teeth. Afternoons were spent losing soccer games to the local children. At the close of each day, we walked down to the beach to reflect on the day and to be renewed by the water. My favorite spot was under a green, gnarly tree. The tree had been weathered and worn by many storms, but it was grounded and green and beautiful.

God, help me to feel your loving presence and trust in you, so that I may be like a tree planted by the water. Not fearful or anxious of hardships, but trusting and renewed, so that I may feel grounded and ready to bear the fruit you have asked me to grow.

Catherine Olivo

Appointed readings for today: Hosea 6:1-6, Psalm 51:15-20, Luke 18:9-14