It’s kind of fascinating to me that Lent is meant to recall the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert. Because the thing is, we know almost nothing about that the vast majority of that time. Certainly, the face-off with Satan must have been a climax of that time. But what about the rest of that time?
We are a week into Lent, more or less. It leads me to wonder what it was like a week after Jesus stepped into the desert. Like anybody, all I can do is guess.
One of my hopes is that these emails take us on a journey that has some paralells to Jesus. Our first exercise was a bit of a microcosm of the whole cataphatic-apophatic spectrum. And then we said, “Yes!” and “Thank you.” We begin in optimism and joy. I suspect when he come out of his baptism, having heard God’s voice, Jesus began this way, too.
A few days fasting might have given him a clarity of purpose. In our most recent exercise, when we placed the intrusive thoughts on that river in our imaginary, we might have experienced something distantly akin to Jesus’ single mindedness.
Today’s exercise has lots of similarities to that last exercise. But takes us deeper into the apophatic. It invites us to surrender more than just intrusive thoughts. I believe that Jesus might also have been surrendering something deeper, about a week into his time in the desert.
Background: It seems that there is some immutable center to us. This has been called the True Self. It can be the work of a lifetime to get past the things that seem like such an important part of who we are. Roles, titles, jobs, even callings… These are often good things. But they are not the most basic measure of who we are.
- Relax. Find your breath.
- Imagine a riverside scene. Perhaps it is a place you have been.
- Begin by seeing it in your mind’s eye. Then locate yourself there.
- Furnish additional sensory information. What sounds are you hearing? What smells are you smelling? What is the temperature like? Are you sitting? What does your seat feel like?
- Behold the river. See how the gentle current moves the water out of your vision.
- Calm your mind. As thoughts enter into your awareness, place them on the river. Allow the river to carry them out of your perceptions.
- Continue to breathe deeply and slowly. As anything: feelings, memories, perception rise up to distract you from your breath, give them, gently to the river. Place them as you might put a leaf on the water, so gently to be sure it is floating in the cool water.
- When you are ready, consider a trivial portion of your identity. Perhaps you are a football fan, or a lover of science fiction. Whatever that trivial aspect of your identity is, give it up to the river. Place it on the water and let the current carry it out of sight.
- With your next breath, consider what it is like to be freed of this aspect of your identity.
- Now, consider another aspect of your identity. Perhaps it is a certain distant familial relationship like uncle or cousin. Maybe it is a hobby you are very passionate about. Give this part of yourself to the river, now.
- Experience life with out this fact about yourself. Consider the ways you are changed. As distracting thoughts and feelings arise, remember to give these to the river, too.
- Now, find something very important to you. Perhaps it is a job, a title, or a degree. Maybe it is your role within the family you live in (mother/father/ sister/daughter, etc…) Give this role to the river as well.
- Spend a breath experiencing yourself without this important role.
- Consider that there is something within you. Explore who or what this is.
- If it feels right, give additional aspects of your identity to the river.
- You might even give your name itself to the river.
- When you have given all the parts of yourself that you wish to, explore who you are, now. Consider your relationship with the divine. Think about what is left of you.
- When you are ready, see yourself getting up from the riverside.
- Walk downriver. Continue to not only see, but also hear and feel this world in your imagination. Perhaps fifty feet down the river, you will find that a number of rocks and branches lie across the river, obstructing the flow.
- As you walk among these, you will find that many of the parts of yourself that you gave to the river sit here, prevented from going to far away. Consider each aspect of yourself.
- The ones you wish for, you can have back. Take them within you again. As for the ones you don’t want? Untether them from the rocks and branches. Let them be washed free.
You can look forward to your next email Saturday morning. I hope you will click here and share some about how this exploration is going for you. I would like to really encourage you to commit yourself to some kind of contemplation every day. It really does make a difference. If a given day’s exercise is not working for you, you might go back to an early exercise. You also can click here to go to the Faith-ing Project website and check out some other practices.
The Faith-ing Project is my labor of love. It was born out of my realization that spiritual exercises can make life better… and in some ways, easier. I am committed to creating an easily accessible resource that provides lots of options in one place for the spiritually hungry and curious. It is a very important part of this vision that these practices are available to anyone who would like to access them, regardless of their financial situation.
However, making these practices available does carry some financial and time-related cost. I am excited to share that financially speaking, the project has almost paid for itself at this point. I have a hope to go further, to improve the equipment used for audio recordings and access technical support to improve the reach, look, and feel of the website.
If you would like specific information about different ways that you can support the Faith-ing Project, please click here.