Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Romans 7:15-20

I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.

More thoughts for meditation

In this reading from Romans, Paul is struggling with the disconnect between what he decides to do and what he actually does. Paul was so ambitious that he couldn’t really back down from his aspirations for holiness and goodness. He still went for it whole-hog! He refused to set a lower moral standard for himself. Instead, he set about purifying his motivations through prayer and communion with God. This is hard and sometimes confusing work. The following is a quote from Fr. Thomas Keating’s book Invitation to Love. The first third of the book addresses the undoing of the false self.

“Once we start the spiritual journey, God is totally on our side. Everything works together for our good. If we can believe this, we can save ourselves an enormous amount of trouble. Purification of the unconscious is an important part of the journey. The unconscious motivation that is firmly in place by age three or four, and more deeply entrenched by the age of reason. As long as the false self with its emotional programs for happiness is in place, we tend to appropriate any progress in the journey to ourselves.

The experience of God’s love and the experience of our weakness are correlative. These are the two poles that God works with as he gradually frees us from immature ways of relating to him. The experience of our desperate need for God’s healing is the measure in which we experience his infinite mercy. The deeper the experience of God’s mercy, the more compassion we will have for others.”

Suggestion for action

During Lent this section will be a liturgy of varying length and depth designed to help a cell, a family or other gathering of friends to practice a bit of what we are learning from the teacher on which we focus each week.

“Purification of the unconscious” seems like a tall order for anyone, regardless of age or spiritual maturity. Fr. Keating talked about long periods of frustration in his 30s because he was doing the right things and still experiencing attitudes and emotional responses that did not seem to be in line with the values of the gospel. That is why he says above, “God is totally on our side…if we can believe this we can save ourselves from an enormous amount of trouble.”

Meditate on this line together for ten minutes (set a timer), “God is for me, in this moment and the next.” Tie this prayer to your breath.  [Inhale] “God is for me, [Exhale] “in this moment” [Inhale] “and the next.” [Exhale] “God is for me, [Inhale] “in this moment” [Exhale] “and the next.” …

Now try it in another way  Take a walk with it as your feet hit the pavement. “God is for me” [Left foot] “In this moment” [Right foot] “And the next” [Left foot] “God is for me” [Right foot] “In this moment” [Left foot] “And the next” [Right foot] … and so on. It’s a slow, meditative walking. We’re linking our body, our breath, our minds and hearts with this deepest reality. 

What a strange, beautiful procession you and your friends might be on a Friday! Even alone, your slow, maybe mumbling self might be a strange, beautiful sight. See how long you can go slow. Lent is just that, long and slow.

One place that might feel more normal to be so slow is in a labyrinth, an ancient prayer walking circle. Here are two locations in our region where there is public access to a labyrinth Jefferson University in East Falls and Trinity Episcopal Church in Collingswood. You might make your Friday night plans a field trip (though around your block is fine)