Feb 18, 2015

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Discovering Lent as a season of freedom

Discovering Lent as a season of freedom

Lene Suh Nicolaisen

Lent is traditionally understood as a time of conversion, of metanoia. A time to repent for past sins or sins of omissions, the things we could have done in the face of the suffering of another person. The focus can end up being very much of what we as human beings are not able to do and less of who God is for us and what God does in our lives – if only we dare to let Him.

“The Lord is spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom ( 2. Cor. 3:17.). The freedom we are looking for is the freedom to become who we are really called to be, to love and receive love, to make good decisions and experience the beauty of creation and the mystery of the love of God. So it is a freedom to, a freedom for, and implied that there is something to be free from as well. For most of us what we need to be freed from clutters up a lot of our interior space and constrains our ability to make choices for love from love, perhaps so much that we even begin to think that this is what it is supposed to be like.

The asceticism associated with lent is practiced differently in different traditions. In the Lutheran tradition that I am from it often becomes more of a diet (fasting from sugar, meat, etc) or a detox (abstaining from alcohol or cigarettes) and less of a spiritual exercise that opens our hearts and minds for God’s love. Asceticism extends beyond an understanding of penance for sins. It is the discipline of taking control of desire of that which makes us unfree. We cannot be totally free, but we can begin to consider what binds us. In prayer we are invited to discover what makes us unfree and what may prevent us from allowing God the space needed for us to be deeper transformed into God’s image.

What makes you unfree?
A question that may help you begin discovering what makes you unfree could be this: “What am I afraid of”? Any decision made out of fear cannot be considered free. And we can be bound by absolutely everything; being at the center of things, not being at the center of things, having a certain career, simple living, a particular gender or sexuality, looking well, feeling sorry for oneself, doing everything alone. The list is long and personal – what takes up a lot of my time or mental space even if I don’t want to acknowledge it? The point is; we are all bound, all unfree – but do we know our ‘unfreedoms’, because when we know them we can sometimes choose not to be bound by them.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesuits calls that list our disordered attachments. They are attachments or affections, because they are deeply seated in us, affections suggest they are related to love, hence they are not necessarily “bad” or “evil” in themselves., but they are disordered because they are not leading us in a life-giving direction. They may leads us directly to actions that are incongruent with God’s love for us and God’s desire for us to be whole and loving persons serving God. They essentially make us unfree, they bind us to actions or patterns of thoughts that narrows our vision and make us make decisions based on fear.

Our unfreedom really has to do with our relationship to the first commandment: ‘Thou shall have no other God’. Like the Israelites in Exodus most of us have other gods. When we get impatient, can’t believe it is true, many of us do as the Israelites in the dessert; we find a God that is visible and tangible, perhaps not built in gold literally, but something we can be passionate about. And it can be anything. The list is long and personal and it may not be per se “bad” or “evil”, but Lucifer can use all our talents against us just like Jesus can use all our so called weakness for us.

What binds is really what prevents us from making good choices and choose life: the first commandment sets the tone for all other things. The God we worship influences the choices we make. What binds us often has some relation to our identity, security and status; who we are, who we’d like to be or who we’re perceived to be, what gives us security in our lives and what do we take pride in?

Anglican priest Mark Oakley suggests these as some of the “gods” of the present time . They are from his context in the UK, but may still foster your reflection. Don’t get stuck un them, they may also prompt you to see clearer what are the gods of present day South Africa and how they play themselves out in your personal life and choices.

? Bound by flatter.
Being bound by appearance in all ways, myself, family, home, and even my ideals.
? Bound by never having enough.
We desire bigger (houses), better (gadgets), faster (cars), busier (calendars). We are never satisfied. The attitude of not having enough, or you may call it the growth paradigm, also plays itself out when there is a tendency to want new relationships and new spiritual experiences as well.
? Bound by speed.
Fast answers, fast growth, fast food. If it is slow it can’t be true. We can’t wait, which means we often change things. In doing so, we may disturb the slow growth of the kingdom of God
? Bound by hardness.
Being unsuccessful or weak meet little understanding in today’s world. Being able to work and contribute seems like a demand, Mercy and goodness doesn’t seem to be the guiding words in our communities and societies.

As you hear Mark Oakley’s list – what does it prompt within you? What does – at least some of the list of things look like that binds you at this time in your life? What takes up a lot of your time or mental space even if you don’t want to acknowledge it? How do you contribute yourself to what makes you unfree to choose life?

The point is; we are all bound, all unfree – but do we know our unfreedom, because when we know them we can sometimes choose not to be bound by them. We are bound, but yet free.

The final point I want to make here is that freedom requires a lot of courage and discipline. It requires courage to begin even to consider and let God reveal to us what makes us unfree, because when we become aware of it we do sometimes also have the choice not to be bound be our unfreedom. That requires taking responsibility on our part. And it requires discipline. It is a life-long discipline to turn our back to our disordered affections. But we don’t do it alone – we do it with God.

Prayer for Lent
If this has stirred something in you, you may want to consider making this little prayer your Lent prayer.
Set perhaps 10-15 minutes aside every day and pray that you may see your day as God sees it from the perspective of these two questions:

• What has been life-giving for me today? Give God thanks.
• What has left me with a sense of dread or tiredness? Let it over to God.
• What do I need from God for these next 24 hours?

Do it without judgement (‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts are indications of judgment, as well as ‘silly’, ‘stupid’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’), but just by noticing it. As we notice over a period of time what is life-giving for us as well as what is taking our energy away, we also begin to notice what is freeing us and what binds us.

Arthur, Lene, Lesley

Lene Suh Nicholaisen along with the CCS’s Imbadu Men’s Project fieldworkers Arthur Rengqu and Lesley Thomas.



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