Welcome to Holy Week, the highpoint of the liturgical year. On Holy Thursday we will have the ritual “Washing of the Feet.” The 12 apostles except for St. Peter may not have fully understood the significance of the ceremony until later when they truly became aware that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. We Christians have the unusual distinction of having a God who is willing to be so humble as to serve us, to die to self for us. There is no other god like our God. We are reminded on Holy Thursday that our God is willing to wash away our dirtiness, our ugliness, those parts of us that hide in the shadow, those aspects of the false self. Our Lord does this so that we can be able and willing to do the same for others, to show the same type of self-giving and transforming love.
Lent is a good time for change and a time when many will make attempts at it, but really any time is a good time for change. The grace of the Spirit actually can move us at any moment, especially when we are open and aware. The change we need is not just on the surface, superficial, but a deep and profound change…a being “born again” type of heart transplant. Holy Week puts the possibilities up close where we can see them magnified. So how does this change process happen? A planting exercise will help.
Imagine a small pot in which you might have some soil. If it were outdoors, this soil might be hard because of our drought. In Arizona where I lived for many years, if I wanted to plant something I’d have to break the ground. In fact, I had to buy a big, heavy pick ax and really work hard to break that desert soil. In order for us to grow, we have to break ourselves first. Sometimes life circumstances do the breaking for us. Either way, this is our suffering. My friend Fr. Flores in Rosenberg recently began a building project at their parish and they had a ground-breaking ceremony. In addition to breaking the earth, they also had to tear down the old church in order to make room for the new one, and this brought lots of tears for the people who were quite attached to the old church. (In Isaiah 53:5) “But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, and by his wounds we were healed.” So in order to start the change process we will break the ground in our little pot here. We are disrupting our foundation, we are disturbing the earth. This is the beginning work of transformation, and this is a holy action. Ask your Heavenly Father for a personal ground-breaking in your prayer, ask this through his Son who was broken for us. Spend some quiet time reflecting on this. Recall Isaiah, and remember Jesus on the Cross.
Secondly, imagine that you have seeds, seeds for planting given to us by the Father. A seed is a mysterious thing; there is something hidden here. We don’t know what a seed may bring. It may bring something beautiful, something fruitful, or it may not grow. Once we make the decision to take the risk to change, we must bury something deep inside ourselves, something unhealthy that needs to die. The seed must be buried, as dormant and seemingly dead, before it can become anything else. (In John 12:24) “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it does, it bears much fruit.” So imagine that we cover our seeds with dirt, as is done in a burial. Meditate as you pray with your imaginary seeds in hand, reach out and up and offer them to God. Then picture your burial ceremony of the seeds. Consider in silence what this burial means for your healing process.
In the third step, imagine that we now wait, pray, and hope after planting. This is the work of the spiritual life, maybe in spiritual direction or counseling, a 12-step program or with a friend. (In Psalm 130:5) “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” The Father provides water which is life-giving. We need also light (Truth) and warmth (Love) to support the growth process. This requires risk. It requires time. It also requires patience. If we disrupt the foundation now, tampering with the soil after planting, then the chance for change, for growth, for life, will be disturbed and interrupted. We ask for our seeds to become fertile, and we wait in the stillness. We may have to clear away the weeds, the distractions that may suck the life out of the new growth and threaten to kill it prematurely. The weeds might be the loud protestation of the ego, who is afraid of change. Meditate on your growth process.
Finally, let your fantasy and prayer continue to the point that after some time and water and light and warmth and patience, we may see new growth. Imagine what you might look like with a transformed heart…what you might be like. Christ is risen! It is Easter morning! (Romans 6:4) “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life.” Once the growth begins, there must be protection of it and continued maintenance of watering and weeding. The ego and others may want the old you to come back, but try your best to understand that it has died and was buried. In your new growth, the invisible (seed) is now made visible (fruit). In your silent and quiet prayer, let the Spirit give you an image of the new person you might become.
At the close of this holy season of Lent, we can open our awareness to “die to self” in some new way (Mark 8:35, John 12:24-25, Galatians 2:20, 2Corinthians 5:17), especially the false self, gradually more and more so that we can be instead increasingly filled with the Spirit…and new life! Our true self is the self that God knows and loves, it is the self that will live in eternity. It will not die. It is only the false selves that will not continue with us after physical death. Be not afraid.
Benner, David G. (2012). Spirituality and the Awakening Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.
Pennington, M. Basil. (2000). True Self / False Self: Unmasking the Spirit Within. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.
Rohr, Richard. (2013). Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.