We enter into Great Lent: we are returning to our Lord
In the sacrament of Baptism, we were anointed with oil, a symbol of God’s love. Our body, our soul, our senses, were marked with the sign of the cross as we were welcomed into the family of faith, the Body of Christ. In Great Lent we have an opportunity to renew that commitment.
A thought: Do I manifest my faith with every facet of my body, mind, and soul?
Prior to being baptized with water, we were marked with the sign of the Cross. Let’s remind ourselves of the prayers of that signing:
First, the priest makes the sign of the cross with oil on the forehead saying:
The servant of God is anointed with the oil of gladness in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy spirit, so that your mind may be open to the understanding and reception of the mysteries of faith in Christ, and knowledge of His Truth, now and forever and for ages of ages. Amen.
Then on the chest saying:
For the healing of soul and body, so that you may love the Lord with your whole heart, your whole soul, and with all your senses, and your neighbour as much as yourself.
Then on the back saying:
So that you may sincerely take on the good yoke of Christ and carry His burden with pleasure, avoiding temptations of wrongdoing.
Then on the ears saying:
May your ears be open to faith; may you hear the call of the holy Gospel.
Anointing the hands saying:
May you lift your hands to the heavens, doing what is good and blessing the Lord.
Then making the cross with oil on the feet saying:
May you walk in the steps of Christ.
Great Lent a personal pilgrimage—a camino towards Easter morning
In the spring of 2018, Fr Myroslaw and I had the privilege of walking 100km of the Portuguese route of the Camino de Santiago, a section of the ancient pilgrimage route that stretches across Europe and ends at the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. We had prepared to share our time with you in a presentation at Sunday coffee, but other events took precedence. A year passed and then COVID, but the idea of our community and pilgrimage remains ever present and ever relevant.
Last year at this time, pandemic news and closures came unexpectedly, and even as Easter approached, we doubted that churches, or the Waterloo museum, would be closed indefinitely! And now, as we approach Great Lent, 2021, our world has changed, our lives have changed, yet we are in the vortex of this tornado—not knowing where we will find ourselves. Perhaps this global disease, unprecedented as it is, merely shows us our regular human existence, but distilled, in an intensity that compels our notice.
In a way, the pandemic is a Camino for all humanity: a pilgrimage, a pathway through which we all traverse, yet in profoundly personal ways. As with pilgrims of old, we walk the same route, yet some of us move under duress, others run freely—some toward, others away from; some “cheat” and arrive at the destination via luxury transportation, others suffer every step. Some find wisdom and joy; some, do not survive.
At the Santiago de Compostela, arriving pilgrims line up to have their pilgrimage “passports” officially stamped—an authentication that at least the final 100km of the Camino have been walked. You are categorized: tourist or pilgrim. In retrospect, I find this is a moot distinction. God’s Spirit is in us; to live this reality is every creature’s life journey, whether conscious or not. Some of us may find Divine Light in exercise, and others may not be stirred by spiritual practices. My life’s journey, my presence, my soul, is experienced through my body.
And so, the Camino de Santiago, as is the practice of all religious pilgrimage, is to encapsulate existence drawn towards God. We follow a path with humanity; we endure all weather; all terrain. We experience exhaustion, discomfort. We cannot be distracted by our jobs or entertainments. After days and weeks of walking, without transportation, we notice our surroundings, we focus on our direction, we appreciate fellowship, kindness, food, rest . . . we awaken to our embodiment—we awaken to our fundamental humanness—where, as Christians, we know there is God.
Pilgrimage compels reflection. El Camino de Santiago has generated a veritable genre of literature written by individuals telling their pilgrimage story. Some pilgrims return time after time, contending that each time the journey is unique, revelatory, profound.
Similarly, our Church community undertakes a pilgrimage annually at Great Lent. Popularly, this has been a time of “giving up” specific foods or bad habits. (I heard a comedian joke that this year for lent they were “giving up” . . . period : ) The goal of traditional dietary restrictions and self-discipline was to eliminate diversions and luxuries in order to help us focus on our inner well-being. However, for some time now, in North America especially, special diets are less of a religious observance, as they are a middle-class obsession. While a vegan diet may be a wise choice for the environment and our health, it will not guarantee spiritual growth, without our effort to recognize God in and around us.
I suggest approaching this pandemic Great Lent consciously as a personal pilgrimage—a camino towards Easter morning. Let’s take the restrictions imposed by COVID as our discipline of reflection into our human selves, where we seek to see more clearly, God within us.
On a long journey, we become acutely aware of our bodies—soreness, tiredness, hunger, thirst, cold, heat, and all the sweetness of comforting our discomforts. We share the road, but it is my personal quest, my own odyssey. In the next few weeks, let’s consider each of our senses and their potential role in illuminating Christ in our life. Perhaps together, travelling this unsought pilgrimage of a global pandemic during our journey of Great Lent, we can glimpse more of the profound mystery of divine presence and marvel at the beauty of our own human existence.
At baptism, our feet were anointed with the sign of the cross:
“May you walk in the steps of Christ”.
This week, as we go about our days, let’s reflect on the baptismal commission of our feet. How do I walk in His steps?
Guests and pilgrims
“We are not merely guests and pilgrims journeying on this earth; we are also guests and pilgrims in the mystery of the Trinity.”
Pope Francis GENERAL AUDIENCE 17.03.21
At baptism, my feet were enjoined to “walk in the steps of Christ”. Do I?
How can I tell? How in KW in 2021 do my feet follow Christ?
As you sit bring your attention to your feet. Wiggle your toes. Make circles with your feet in one direction and then another. Point your toes into the floor and then curl them up towards the ceiling. Acknowledge any pain or ache you may feel in your feet. Be aware of the bones and tissues of your feet: Each foot has 26 bones, 30 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, that work together to support your body.
I am amazed.
Think about where your feet have stood, walked, run—from your birth to this moment.
Take time to reflect on this even if you use a wheelchair as your feet.
If you are able, stand up. Feel the ground beneath you. Feel the weight of your body on your feet. Do this when you are outside. Feel your feet connect you to the earth, beneath the pavement. Feel your connection to the earth. Feel its energy and your own in your feet.
I am grateful.
Christ walked one path only: the path of love. Do I? How do I love with my feet? How do I use my feet? Do I walk towards or away from others (especially those in need)? Think of some examples. In retrospect, would I change my walk, as it were? Will I try to move differently as of today?
Where do I stand? Do I stand in the comfortable cushioning of my privilege? How? Do I stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized? Do I walk with those whose journey is difficult, unattractive, unfashionable? How?
We begin our Lenten pilgrimage praying for our feet to walk in step with Christ and, nearing the end, on Holy Thursday, we will recall Christ’s most profound teaching featuring feet. At the last supper Jesus shocks his friends by washing their feet and asking them to do the same for others. To walk in the steps of Christ means to have the humility to kneel at someone’s feet, to be of service, to be caregiving, gentle: to wash their feet. And a woman washed and anointed Christ’s feet with fragrant oil. To be the recipient of feet washing requires trust, humility, vulnerability as well. Am I open to others washing my feet even as I would theirs?
What a joy to soak my tired grubby feet in a tub of warm water, scented with mint.
Try this if you will. While your feet settle into the calming water, place them in the hands of Christ. Feel the love. Feel the fulness of a pilgrim.
Take a moment to reflect on the symbolic weight of our feet: all feet. As we stand and feel our feet grounded to the earth—recognize your connection to the earth; recognize your interconnection with the earth, with creation, with the environment and with all other feet on the earth, now, past and to come.
We know we walk with Christ when we walk in love—towards those who need us—away from labyrinths of self-righteous narcissism.
In the words of Martin Luther King, may we “pray with our feet” and stay in step with our baptismal vow.
To feel the embodied touch of God
At my Baptism, anointing my hands, the priest said: “May you lift your hands to the heavens, doing what is good and blessing the Lord.”
This Sunday we begin the 3rd week of pilgrimage through Great Lent. We last focused on walking in Christ’s steps—mindful of our feet touching the earth.
However, it’s our hands that we link most with our sense of touch.
COVID has created a heightened awareness of touch in all of us. We are deprived of touch in unprecedented ways while at the same time we’ve developed a fear of it. In the proximity of touch, the virus multiplies; in its absence we wither mentally and physically. Infants deprived of touch do not thrive or develop empathy. In short, touch makes us human. Yet touch can be as destructive as it is life-giving. We are able to choose how we touch others, but we must first be aware of how profound and far reaching our touch is.
Focus on your hands. Rub your palms together vigorously and then hold them just slightly apart, palm to palm: can you feel the cushion of energy between them?
Our sense of touch speaks to our interdependence as God’s creatures. We are so interconnected with each other, with the environment, with all creation, that we do not fathom how our touch affects us and the world around us. We can choose how we extend our hands to others, but our human interconnection means that the significance of our touch also relies on a response. When your hand grasps mine, I feel your touch, as you do mine. Is there a difference between feeling and touching? Knowing there is love between us, do we know where my love intersects with yours? Our human need for touch is as powerful as our need for love. In this way we can understand how God, who is Love, can be tangibly present to us—through our sense of touch.
Our language catches this numinous sense of touch in its interplay of concrete and metaphorical usage: “I’ll be in touch!”
There is a collective pandemic longing for encounters of touch, from hugging loved ones to simple handshakes with strangers. How have I been “in touch” during this time of COVID?
“Be my hands”
How do I use my hands? Beyond the scrubbing and disinfecting, do I reach out to others? Am I open to others who would help me or would need me? When it’s possible, do I use physical touch with care and kindness? Do I respond to the kindness of others?
How might I have touched others today? How have I allowed others to touch me?
Have I let myself be touched by the warm greeting, smile, or effort of a stranger in the street?
Without knowing it, the way we live our life touches others—near and far.
Can you think of examples? Has a physical embrace ever calmed your anxiety or reduced your pain. We need loving touch in order to be whole—to feel the embodied touch of God.
Humanity’s universal need for touch and our ability to touch one another without physical presence manifests our oneness in God. It manifests our connection regardless of the way we insist on separating people by colour, culture, creeds, and so on.
When you are outside take the time to put your hands on a tree trunk; perhaps there is a spring flower that you might touch. Let yourself feel the connection. Petting an animal also can convey our bond with creation. We belong to the Divine body—the Trinitarian community that continually reaches out touching everyone and everything in a divine embrace.
“Lift your hands to the heavens.” Feel the LOVE.
“Taste and see how good the Lord is!”
We begin week 5 of our pilgrimage towards Christ—within us and around us.
Christ, is my destination, my companion, and my guide. Christ—God’s human incarnation—leads me in an understanding of myself, my body, as a part of the Divine Trinity.
Every moment I make choices (mostly unconscious) on how to act, how to move, how to be. The question compelling this Lenten pilgrimage is, “Am I a vehicle for Christ?” in other words “How am I Christ for others throughout my regular day?”
What does this even mean? The meaning of Christ, the reality of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection can be summed up in a syllable: Love. God is love and love is God. And we experience God when we live in love with one another. God’s love calls me into existence but I can choose whether or not to accept and rejoice in this reality with every fibre of my being.
This week we continue to reflect on our senses: eyes, ears, mouth, nose: hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling. As with my feet and hands, through my senses I can experience the wonder and beauty of being alive. While each organ has specific receptors, our senses do not function in isolation. Synaesthesia is the term for a sensory interchange, as it were, when an individual may be able to see music as colours, for example, or hear colours as specific sounds. While few are identified as synesthetes, it is a marvel to reflect on how our senses interconnect within our body while interconnecting us with others and with our surroundings.
COVID has highlighted the intimate connection between smell and taste; losing smell leaves many virus survivors with a different experience of food. Yet, where taste might diminish, a new appreciation for texture may appear. How do my nose and mouth manifest my faith?
When an infant receives the eucharist at Baptism, the priest says “taste and see how good the Lord is!” We consume the Eucharist, showing that we are one with Christ, one body with Christ and one body with all others: we are the body of Christ—together.
Our mouths and tongues taste. We consume food that sustains the health of our bodies, while at the same time we taste a spectrum of flavours that introduce us to cultures and geographies and human inventiveness that provides unending variety and delight.
Pause to reflect on the food I have access to, the people and processes involved in its journey from seed to my table to my mouth. Appreciate the flavours, the pleasure of taste, of satisfying hunger. Savour the coffee. Delight in the tang of a lemon. I am thankful.
Our mouths speak, sing, cry out, and sigh. Does our voice echo love? Think about how I speak when I do not use my voice. How do I speak with my eyes? My face? My posture?
Do I think before I speak? Before I speak, might I ask myself: is what I’m about to say 1) kind? 2) true? 3) necessary? (L. Penny).
Does my voice join with those who are silenced?
Do I raise my voice in anger or in praise?
Do I use my voice for love?
Can I taste how good the Lord is?
Our sense of smell is often undervalued. But we are told to stop and smell the roses. We can sniff out the soured milk in the refrigerator and we credit our nose for sensing danger. In Ukrainian, the word for smell overlaps with the word for hearing. Can you smell/hear that aroma? A whiff of something can create a memory that remains for life. Our senses are a marvel.
Inhale slowly and fully through your nose; exhale slowly and completely through your mouth. Being aware of our breathing is fundamental to meditative prayer, to the Jesus Prayer, to calmness and equilibrium.
Outdoors, inhale—identify the scents in the air: is it exhaust from cars? Can you smell the soil; the delicate blooms of spring? Taste and smell the deep joy of creation.
Recognize the Spirit of God flowing through your body. Breathe in love. Exhale love.
“Let us go forth to behold ourselves in Your beauty.”
In all pilgrimages, as we near the home stretch we fall into the rhythm of the journey. Perhaps now I can sense that the destination will not end my pilgrimage. It continues as long as I am in my body and as long as I confront my yearning for peace, beauty, and joy. My pilgrimage is to encounter the Spirit of God within me—within my human body.
The Gospels tell us that Christ wants those with ears to listen and those with eyes to see (Matthew 13:16). Of course this doesn’t refer to our sensory acuity, but to our willingness to accept His message. Christ gives us His example, His stories, His life, but He does not force, threaten, or coerce us to follow Him. At my Baptismal anointing, my eyes and ears received the “seal of the Holy Spirit”, marking the gift of God’s presence in me. What might this mean for me—now in this time of my life?
When we understand someone and can relate to what they say, we tell them “I hear you”. Do I really listen to others? Do I let the voices of others into my consciousness; am I open to letting the voices of others expand my own experience? Am I able to listen without judgement? On the other hand, am I open to listen critically, so that I am not swayed by my own self-interest or that of others? Am I open to hearing what I may not agree with? Am I open to constructive advice without defensiveness? We learn from each other. The more I can listen to others unlike myself, the less likely I am to reject them.
Christ listened to those he encountered. He listened with compassion, mercy, love. He listened with His presence. Listening through Christ’s ears, I feel myself heard.
Take a moment to close your eyes. Simply listen. What do I hear?
Listen to your breath as you breathe. Listen to your body. . . Simply listen. I am grateful for this moment of stillness, of breath, of life.
Turn your focus to your eyes: sight, insight; windows to the soul. What do my eyes see as we go through these COVID days? There is no shortage of suffering around us, political strife, environmental disasters, war, illness. As the pandemic continues to rage, so too do so many people.
What do I see? Am I able to see the mystery of life around me? Do I notice the greening of the earth after the winter’s barrenness? Can I see goodness in the midst of job loss and isolation?
Where do I see Christ? This may be the most difficult question to answer truthfully.
As Christians, we are told how to see: we are to see Christ in the least of our sisters and brothers (Matthew 25:40). Christ in everyone and everything. The world through the eyes of Christ is a world seen through the prism of radical love. We know this sight is possible for humans such as we are, because Christ, tortured on the cross, sees his killers as unable to “see” what they’re doing. He sees them through the eyes of love.
But this sight cannot be possible, even glimpsed, if we do not first feel seen and loved ourselves. We are loved—regardless of what we do (remember the prodigal son). We don’t earn God’s love, but when we accept it, feel it, we can’t help but love back. This is the miracle of God in us and around us. Love generates love.
Stop. Close your eyes. See yourself as loved. Think of any times in your life, where you felt love from others. See yourself loving back.
See yourself truthfully with all your failings and all your strengths and all your regrets. You are seen and loved. It’s ok. You can share that love too.
What a relief to not have to bury my faults, doubts, and mistakes away from myself, away from God. I relax into the cloak of Christ that enveloped me at Baptism. Now it’s easier to see my neighbour’s (spouse, child, parent) failings with more good humour and less irritation. Loving my truer self I can love others while seeing them as they are. It’s ok. Catching a glimpse of the world through the eyes of love transfigures reality. Darkness is ringed with light.
“Everything becomes enchanting once we have full sight. One God, one world, one truth, one suffering, and one love (see Ephesians 4:4-6). All we can do is participate.” (R Rohr)
When you looked at me
your eyes imprinted your grace in me;
for this you loved me ardently;
and thus my eyes deserved
to adore what they beheld in you. . . .
—John of the Cross, “The Spiritual Canticle,” stanzas 32, 36
Do I have eyes to see? Do I have ears to hear?
“We are Christian pilgrims walking together through life, together with Christ.”
“Love, following in the footsteps of Christ, in concern and compassion for all, is the highest expression of our faith and hope… Love rejoices in seeing others grow. Hence it suffers when others are anguished, lonely, sick, homeless, despised or in need. Love is a leap of the heart; it brings us out of ourselves and creates bonds of sharing and communion.” (Pope Francis)
We enter our 6th week of pilgrimage, focusing on our heart.
Before Christ entered Jerusalem, He was anointed with fragrant oil by His friend and follower, Mary of Bethany. This anointing marks Him as the Messiah and initiates His journey to the cross and Resurrection. So too, my Baptismal anointing on my heart marks my belonging to the body of Christ: “so that you may love the Lord with your whole heart, your whole soul, and with all your senses, and your neighbour as much as yourself”. May we walk into this Passion week, and through each day of our life, aware of our senses, aware of the gift of our human body, as a vehicle of Divine Love.
We bless pussy willows this Sunday to remember the people’s welcome of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. As the Gospels describe, there is jubilation that will later devolve into bloodthirsty frenzy. Pre-COVID of course, in fun, we tap each other with our willows, with a reminder that in a week is Velykden’—literally–The Great Day. In between these Sundays, we retrace Christ’s passion—His betrayal, torture, and brutal death, encouraged by the very crowds that danced at His arrival. The pussy willow we bring from church symbolizes the marvel of our Baptismal anointing. I, the same flesh as the crowds that cheered and then jeered at Christ, can recognize that I am loved anyway. The pussy willow, a twig, tells me, a Christian, that every time I cheer or jeer at another, I do this to Christ. And it reminds me that despite everything, I am loved. I am understood—it is I who at these times of betrayal and hatefulness, just don’t know what I do. And it’s ok because every time I love, every time I am kind, every time I choose the good—I’m letting Christ show through me—I’m being a part of the body of Christ—I’m (also) the same flesh as the person Jesus. Thus, the willow remains a symbol of wondrous hope, and new life, that can fill our hearts to overflowing with joy and gratitude.
Our physical heart is a muscle that works continuously without our conscious effort. Chances are, we ignore it until it gives us trouble. It is considered the centre of our life force, our emotions. It is a symbol of love, soul, humanity. It seems we experience all our senses with our hearts. We say a heart can be cold, broken; it can feel, and be touched. It can rejoice and sing, see and listen, jump or be still, be full or empty.
Sit quietly with your eyes closed. Listen to your heartbeat. Put your hand on your heart. Can you feel it beating? Imagine this rhythm in your family members, in your neighbours, in the person delivering your mail. Imagine it in the squirrel digging up the tulips! My heart—so integral to my being—is integral to all other individuals, even to most creatures of the earth. My heart doesn’t need my consent to work, but it needs my care. Do I eat well? Do I exercise?
Hearts are muscles, but it is a marvelous fact of human beings, that a heart will be healthier if the body it’s in is loved by others. My heart can be healthier, if I love others too. It’s as if the more we exercise the muscle of love, the stronger and easier it is to love and be loved.
Our Lenten camino is to recognize more clearly Christ (God, Trinity) within our physical selves. Christ’s suffering and death tells us that living in Christ does not change our human condition. We suffer pain, loss, humiliation, disappointment. We will lose sight, make mistakes, feel hate. But we are Christian pilgrims walking together through life, together with Christ, together we can see beauty in all creation. We are grounded in the reality of His Incarnation and Resurrection. I feel profound interconnection with all life. My senses, my heart, my soul, my being, flow with love, wonder and gratitude.
“Let us place our first step in the ascent at the bottom, presenting to ourselves the whole material world as a mirror, through which we may pass over to God, the Supreme Craftsman,” . . . “The Creator’s supreme power, wisdom and benevolence shine forth in created things.” (St Bonaventure 1221-1274)