"Let’s believe the good news! Instead of approaching our Lenten journey from a dusty perspective, let’s come back and deepen our relationship with God. "
One Ash Wednesday many years ago as I prepared to have my forehead crossed in ashes, I was shocked to hear something different from the usual “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Instead, Fr. Charlie said to me, “Repent, and believe the good news!” His words plunged me into a new perspective for Lent. Instead of telling me I was not worth much, Fr. Charlie resuscitated a truth hidden deep inside me all this time: that I was a beloved of God.
Traditionally the Church has begun the season of Lent by telling us we need to be cleansed, to become humble, and to do penance for our evil ways. The practice might have had the purpose to inspire us to be “poor in spirit,” as the first Beatitude. It never really helped me because it came from the outside. I have found that true transformation flows from the inside. The message of dust always made me feel insignificant and unloved. Fr. Charlie changed that with two lessons.
"Thomas Keating says, “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from [God.]"
First, we are called to repent. What does it mean to repent? Fr. Thomas often says, “Repent means change your mind. Change your attitude.” Another meaning is to turn around and go in a different direction. I think it means that God is really calling us, “Come back to Me, please, with all your heart!” We’ve wandered away. In Genesis, God calls Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” [Genesis 3:9] He is not asking their location. God knows where they are. God is asking them if they know where they really are. They have separated themselves and hidden in shame.
Our second lesson is to believe that we are the beloved dust of God. We are created in the image of God with our basic core of goodness. Adam and Eve have forgotten they are loved completely by God. Our relationship with God is most important. No matter what we do, say, feel, or think, we are still the beloved of God. Nothing will separate us from the love of God. [Romans 8:35]
Thomas Keating says, “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from [God.] If we get rid of that thought, our troubles will be greatly reduced. We fail to believe that we are always with God and that [God] is part of every reality. The present moment, every object we see, our inmost nature are all rooted in [God.] But we hesitate to believe this until personal experience gives us the confidence to believe in it.” [Open Mind, Open Heart, 33] We become more aware of our closeness with God through Centering Prayer.
Too often we forget our true identity in whom God is well pleased. We seek happiness in the wrong places. We are really seeking love. We get the wrong idea thinking that we are beloved by what we do, what we have, what pleasure we feel, and what esteem we receive from others. Fr. Thomas calls them the false programs for happiness. By looking for love in the wrong places, we feel separated from God.
Jesus goes out into the desert because he knows he is the beloved in whom God is well pleased. [Mark 1:11]. He is well equipped to face the temptations of pleasure, esteem, wealth, or power knowing they are like the shifting sands of the desert and will never bring happiness. Knowing God’s love in his core, he easily sees through the illusions. We can do the same.
Let’s believe the good news! Instead of approaching our Lenten journey from a dusty perspective, let’s come back and deepen our relationship with God. Let’s go to our inner room and close the door. There, as we practice Centering Prayer consenting with God in secret, our Father rewards us [Matthew 6:6]. We draw from the inexhaustible well filled with life, light, healing, and love. We become completely humble because we know God’s free generous gifts we do not deserve.