We are now over halfway through Lent. Before jumping into the sixth station of the cross–our focus for this week–I want to check in.
- Has your experience of Lent this year been what you expected?
- How has Lent been different this year in comparison to past years?
- Have you found it easier or more difficult than past years?
- What feelings or ideas have you found recurring as you’ve gone through the stations?
- What are you hoping to gain from the final three weeks of Lent?
Discerning Resistance, Consolation, and Desolation in your spiritual formation
Lent is a solemn season. It is meant to give us the space and time for genuine reflection on our faith, ourselves and our relationships. Becoming aware of what is happening inside your soul at pivotal times throughout the day is the work of discernment. According to Larry Warner in Journey with Jesus,
Ignatius provided key insights for discernment for those who journey through the Exercises. He referred to this section as “rules for perceiving and knowing in some manner the different movements which are caused in the soul.”
Reflection can be painful; it can open our eyes to aspects of ourselves or our lives that we have been avoiding – points of resistance to the work of God in our lives. It can also be hopeful and beautiful as the quiet provides intentional time to be still, helps us make sense of the world around us, and reminds us of God’s love – moments of consolation where God is drawing near. And then those times where we feel isolated and alone – times that we’ve all experienced – are experiences of desolation.
What is missing?
When I reflect on my spiritual formation I find that it has been full of both rich and dry seasons. About 18 months ago I began studying, practicing and experiencing spiritual development in a cohort of doctoral students from Fuller Theological Seminary. I’ve shared bits and pieces from my journey during this Lenten blog series. One of the big discoveries I’ve had is that the pathways I was exposed to in my early spiritual formation were not sufficient.
Have you discovered that for yourself as well?
I think one thing the Protestant Reformation got wrong was throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Thus we–the evangelical stream of the Christian church–have been left wanting. As a result, some have reintroduced, revisited or reinvigorated various aspects of the ancient church into the current church context, such as symbols, creeds, liturgy, Lent (Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday) to provide anchors for our Faith. Embracing those practices have offered some encouragement, others a foundation, and still others frustration, or worse, ambivalence.
There is still more that Christians of the past have done that we can learn from. One major takeaway for me has been the language that people like Ignatius use. It gives me a way to articulate and identify with what is stirring in my soul. Paying attention to that stirring, and then discerning what the Lord is communicating to me, becomes more practical when I have language to articulate it.
The important point here is to remain open, curious and committed to learning with the aim of drawing closer to Jesus, engaging more in what it means to follow Him, and serving with greater clarity of what He wants to do in and through me. He gives the invitation to engage. What is your response?
Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
The sixth station of the cross is where Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. If you are not familiar with this part of the story, as Jesus carries his cross towards his execution site, tormented by the crowd, a stranger steps into his path and wipes the blood and sweat from his face. She can’t do much more than this, but she does what she can to ease Jesus’ suffering.
The story of Veronica is not one that can be found in the Bible. Like many of the Stations of the Cross, the story is based on legend and speculation along with what can be gathered from other historical texts. There have been accounts passed down through the ages that claim a stranger did offer Jesus this kindness. Whether or not this story is true, it is the truth we wish to see in ourselves. It is what we long to be able to do for Jesus while reflecting on the story of his journey toward death.
The Easter story is about Jesus’ compassion for all of us. He loved us so much that he took compassion on us, even in the midst of our sin, and sacrificed his own life. At this station, Veronica can represent us, Jesus’ people, reflecting the compassion that God has shown us since our creation. We can also reflect on how Jesus may have felt, the compassion, how it may have given him strength to keep going. We can all remember a time when a little compassion given to us at a difficult time felt like a lifeline to hope.
I’ll close with a quote from 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NLT)
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.“
Questions for reflection:
- Think about a time in your past when you were shown compassion and how it helped reinvigorate you.
- Who in your life could use compassion right now?
- What are some small ways you could show greater compassion this week?
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