Dear People of the Diocese of Kootenay,
The day I write this, I have been out on my snowshoes, reveling in the sun glinting off fresh snow. I look up to the hills around Kelowna transformed by white, and feel grounded as I remember this same daily walk through the seasons: the brown of early spring, then greening buds on the trees, then blossoms fresh in the spring air, summer fruit ripening, the heady fall smell of harvest, and now the dark dormant trees of winter. One of the things that has grounded me through the stress of the pandemic is the faithfulness of Earth’s seasons. You may have also figured out from my previous writing that I consider the Liturgical Calendar to be grounding for my spiritual life. The Liturgical year is itself a source of strength, of transformation; I find that the round of seasons of Biblical story we spiral through each year has the potential to open us to the New Life that God offers us and continuously works toward. These seasons shape us over time.
This process of transformation that God is up to in our lives is called “sanctification”, the gradual process of becoming holy, having the character of the divine life realized in our lives in this world (not just in the world to come, but in the here and now, in us!). This holiness of life, sanctification, is one of the goals of our baptismal vows, drawing us closer to being the people God longs for us to become. It is the result of discipleship, following Jesus. Transformation, sanctification, is God’s work, not ours; all we can do is pay attention and co-operate. As Woody Allen famously says, we need to show up.
You know all this, of course, but I am particularly aware of this call to attention as we move from the season of Epiphany into the season of Lent. In Epiphany we pay attention to the ministry of spreading God’s light in the world, a challenging call in the midst of Covid and the long process of staying home that we have endured. Epiphany is meant to be an active season, living our Baptismal vows, putting the light of Christ into loving deeds, a quandary when normal action is curtailed. Loving our neighbour by staying home has been frustrating and counter-intuitive for us who are used to an active life!
Transfiguration Sunday this year is Feb. 14. The Season of Epiphany always ends with the mysterious story of the Transfiguration, a startling and scary moment when the holiness, the glory of Jesus, bursts upon the disciples. An experience beyond words, a fleeting, wondrous instant of full awareness of God’s presence. Jesus shining!
How does the story start? The disciples, Peter, James, and John, go with Jesus up the mountain to pray. This was a habit for Jesus, to go off to the wilderness to pray. To me, this is the “showing up” part, the disciples opening themselves or paying attention that allows them to catch a glimpse of what God is up to. It is not my experience that this kind of spectacular vision of Jesus shining happens regularly in prayer! But I think prayer opens us up to being awake and noticing where and when God shows up. Prayer is regular conversation with God. Like any love relationship, much of the conversation is about ordinary stuff. With family members, it is the grocery list, who is going to shovel the snow, whose turn is it to take out the garbage. Even with an old friend on the phone, it is about the weather, the doctor’s appointment, the same old complaint, what is happening now….but it is a regular routine of communication, and sometimes, in the midst of this habit of talking, a gem is discovered, an insight awakens, a memory is kindled. Love deepens.
The Season of Lent we will enter shortly invites us to “go up the mountain to pray”, to purposely practice paying attention, to have more habitual conversation with God, however it is that we best do that: a walk by the lake, a quiet cup of tea in the morning in our favorite chair, praying Morning Prayer on-line, writing in our journal, singing a hymn at the piano, joining a Bible study, phoning a wise spiritual companion. This year, what might be add to our routine of conversation with God?
On Ash Wednesday (Feb. 17) we will be invited “to keep a holy Lent”, to enter into the transformative practice of paying attention.