Rev. Heather J. Blais
The gospel reading for Ash Wednesday is always taken from a brief section of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins by offering the crowd a general principle: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
Jesus then goes on to explore three particular applications of this principle: giving money, praying, and fasting. At first glance, the general idea is that when you make a financial gift, pray, or fast, to do so quietly and humbly. Yet when has Jesus ever been so binary in his approach? Rather, Jesus tends to ask us open ended questions, forcing us to go deeper if we dare remain present to his questions.
I think underneath this general principle Jesus is offering us an unasked question: What motivates our actions?
Jesus is inviting us to stop and examine our actions. To ask ourselves: Why am I doing this?
As followers of Jesus, the core of our motivation must always be Love. Love of the stranger, love of our enemy, love of neighbor, love of community, love of family, love of friends, love and care of self. Because as the great prophet Michael Currey once said, “If it’s not about Love, it’s not about God.”
Yet the work of objective self examination is hard. It requires that we take time and space to simply be with God.
This is one reason that Jake Braithwaites, of the Jesuit Society of Jesus, recently wrote a blog titled, A Not-So-Radical Proposal for Your Lenten Season: Do Nothing.
“I’m really interested in the way technology has warped our relationships with our true selves. I’m talking about the selves that show up when we’re all alone, in front of God, no masks. Because we’re liable to be “on” at all times, we rarely take a moment to be still. We’re loathe to take a moment to know God and to let God know us.”
We all know from personal experience that life seems to be getting busier and busier, if not in our own lives, in the lives of those around us.
Braithwaites acknowledges the cost to this pace of life.
He writes: “In the midst of a lot of life-giving things, I had barely a moment to rest, to slow down, to be still. And I felt it. When the rare slow moment came I would be overwhelmed by the range of emotions that might overtake me: wounds I’d let fester; exhaustion I’d ignored; difficult moments I’d refused to process. Where had all this been hiding? Had it been here all along?”
Things began to shift for Braithwaites during a work trip abroad, where he convinced his boss to let him stay a few days longer. During his time away, he began to take long walks, and that is where the shifting started for him.
He writes, “I didn’t solve everything in my strolling, but I started to notice some patterns. I was finally able to hear God’s voice because the noise was turned down. I couldn’t block it out with the distractions–parties and drinking and social media and to-do lists and podcasts and music and movies and shows and idle fretting about work—that were my preferred methods. Instead, I just had to be present to exactly what I was feeling at each moment. If I was sad, I just had to be sad for a bit. If I was excited, I just got to experience it rather than try to share it on an online profile. If I was worried, I lived through the worry instead of numbing it.”
Braithwaites goes on to suggest we try something radically different this Lent. Maybe instead of adding this or taking away that we instead simply do nothing. What would it look like if for the next forty days you carved out space and time to simply do nothing?
What if it turns out that doing nothing, simply being with God and noticing that God is with you, was the most important thing you could do for yourself, those you love, the Church, and the world? Would that be enough to grant you permission to take that time? What might begin to shift in you if you have space and time with God? How might it shift the motivations behind your actions? This Lent, I invite you to simply be. Amen.
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