In this Lenten season we ask what is truly transformative. What practices are potent enough to dissolve the patterns of perception and response etched in the neural circuits of our brains, constantly reinforced by an environment obsessed with competition and the lure of individual gratification? This month’s scriptures suggest that contemplative practice—the art of persistent gazing—is powerful enough when the focus is Jesus, the sign of what Paul calls “the foolishness and weakness of God.” When the Crucified One is the focus of our gaze, meditation can never be for us what much of our “spiritual-but-not-religious” culture is after. All manner of meditative practices are marketed as ways to soothe stress and “bring balance” to our over-stimulated lives. These practices carry the prestige of spirituality, but may actually reinforce our conformity to what scripture calls “this age,” if they merely palliate some of its toxic effects in our individual lives.
Shouldn’t spirituality be spurring us to address the need for systemic change, not merely helping us to cope? For radical Christians, contemplative discipline is learning to see Jesus with the eyes of the heart in ways of worship and prayer that expose us to irradiation by his way of self-giving, even to death on a cross. We take the risk of being impregnated with a new self, Jesus’ new self. This core identity in Christ imparts new instincts that enable us to decipher God’s secret solidarity with the poor, excluded, and disempowered.
Martin L. Smith is an Episcopal priest serving at St. Columba’s Church in Washington, D.C.
[ March 4 ]
No One There, Only Jesus
Genesis 17:1-7; Psalm 22:23-31;
Romans 4:13-25; Mark 9:2-9