Several of us have started reading Martin Smith’s classic book, A Season for the Spirit: Readings for the Days of Lent. One of the premises of the book is that the Holy Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days wants to drive us into the wilderness of Lent, and for the same reason. It is the Spirit of truth, and it wants to help us strip away and empty ourselves of all that is false or superficial so that our deep, heart’s-core true self can emerge.
Another premise of Smith’s book is that the more we bring to life our own truest self, the more we see our oneness with all other people and all the universe. We see our place in the collective whole of humanity and God’s creation. Our individual calling becomes clearer, and so does the truth that all our callings are in the service of one cause—serving the force of love and life and light that we name God that created us and created the universe.
Lent is a time for personal spiritual exploration and transformation, but the individual is always collective, the personal always political, as well. This has become clear and crucial to understand in the light of climate science. We have entered an era in history that requires a change of human consciousness in order for civilization to survive. That change needs to take place in each one of us, exactly as Lent is designed to help us do, but we know now that as we do our personal spiritual work we are doing it for the team of all humanity and all the species of life on earth. How we live our lives, how we act as consumers and neighbors and voters and every other personal and public dimension, depends on how we see the world. How we see the world depends on how we understand our own true self and our place.
So it is not a stretch to say that our immersing in the work of Lent, this “season for the Spirit,” is important to the survival of life on earth.
This Sunday we will remind ourselves what that work is.
We will hear three traditional Lenten scripture passages, Psalm 91, Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13, the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness after his 40 day fast. We will sing three beautiful and very different hymns: “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” which is a simple, melodious and haunting Lenten theme-song; and “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,” a soulful African-American spiritual that comes from a deep place of need and yearning; and “God, This Wilderness Seems Trackless,” a hymn that takes us through the wilderness journey of Lent, and that is set to the Advent tune Wachet auf, harmonized by J. S. Bach who sometimes brought Advent into Lent and Lent into Advent in his Passions and cantatas.
The choir will sing the South African “Thuma Mina (Send Me, Lord)” and John Bell’s “In Love You Summon, In Love I Follow,” and the deeply moving “O Große Lieb” from J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion. Pianist Annemieke McLane will play pieces by the early French Baroque master, Jean-Baptiste Lully, and by Jean Baptiste Loeillet, a later French Baroque master. (Lully was Italian born and Loeillet was Belgian and both spent most of their careers in France.)
You can listen to the beautiful “O Große Lieb” from Bach’s St. John Passion here: