Lamentations 3:22 by Mark Lawrence https://www.marklawrencegallery.com/password

Do Not Decrease – Lenten Reflection (18)

Scripture for Today: Jeremiah 29:1-23, Lamentations 3

“Do not decrease.” This direction is given to the people of Israel during a time of chaos and disruption. They are in exile, ripped from their homes, and fighting for their lives. God, with the audacity that only God can have, asked them not to shirk back, not to batten up the hatches or build a wall of protection. Instead, God tells them to choose life.

Now, I cannot presume to speak for everyone, nor have I ever been thrown into exile and forced to marry my captors. But I have encountered my personal exiles when I felt far-flung from God’s reach, and those moments hardly felt like opportunities to increase. In fact, in those times decrease felt like my only option. You could find me at home hiding under the covers, watching Netflix, eating Americone Dream, and hoping that everything would go away.

God’s response to this sunken behavior might sound something like, “There you go again, committing adultery with your neighbor’s wife” (Jer 29:23).

Now, I’m not literally committing adultery — but neither were the Israelites. Rather, this phrase signifies that in a time of deep pain they turned to other comforts and solutions rather than turning to God. Jeremiah, the prophet who co-authored both Lamentations and Jeremiah, has been sent to call the people back to right-relationship with God.

Jeremiah begins by acknowledging the pain the people of Israel are facing. In Lamentations 3 he speaks profusely about the tears that are soaking their faces and the chains that are wearing them down.  They are in the darkness of death. This darkness does not mean dark-colored. Rather, it signifies obscurity: the people thought God had forsaken them. As a result, they had given up on God and pursued other sources of strength.

Through this lens, Jeremiah’s words in Lamentations 3 are especially powerful:

My soul continually thinks of it
    and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in God.”

For Jeremiah, for the people of Israel, and for us today, the only way out of exile and chaos is securing our hope in the promise that God is always with us. We must be assured that, no matter how horrible the situation appears, God has not forgotten us. In my experience, any attempts at healing that have not been grounded on God’s everlasting love have been temporary at best.

If this Lent feels like a time of exile, I wonder how Jeremiah’s call might speak to you. How might naming pain begin a process of liberation? How might we reconnect to God’s promise to be with us? How might that promise develop in us hope? And how might that hope motivate us to turn outward and seek the welfare of those around us, knowing that our liberation is bound to their liberation?

Prayer: Ground me in your unfailing love.

ReflectionWhere, in your life, do you feel a sense of exile? How might you return to  God in this time?

Art: Lamentations 3:22 by Mark Lawrence

 

 

Art found on Vete a La Verga by Vincent D. Cervante http://religiousresponse.us/2016/12/13/vete-a-la-verga/"A Christian Response"

Companions in Grief – Lenten Reflection (14)

Scripture: Job 1-3, 40-42

The story of Job is the first of the wisdom texts. These texts are full of beautiful prose and poetry, a writing style markedly different from the historical texts. They were written at the same time as historical and prophetic texts, and offer a human lens into the experience of the people of God. Job, written around the time of Moses, is a story of the very human struggle to trust in God’s covenant to protect and guide us in times of grief as well as in times of ease.

Job’s story, although extreme in example, offers me a sense of comfort that frothy  epithets fail to provide. When I hear words such as, ‘Don’t worry, just trust God,’ or ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle,’ I feel enraged. I want to shout, “You cannot even begin to understand what I’m going through!”

Job’s story comforts us by revealing the complexity of grief: our desire to trust God, the temptation to blame ourselves, frustration with inept friends, and our longing for relief. Job unlocks the hopelessness of depression I experienced in college, the anger I felt when betrayed by a mentor, and the emptiness I felt when one of my beloveds died from suicide. Job brings me back to the utter despair of those moments in ways I never had to experience.

Job brings me to an authentic place of pain that I must experience to know the healing promised in Job’s redemption. At the story’s end when God and Job converse about God’s steadfastness during Job’s suffering, I am transported to moments of relief I can appreciate in retrospect. I can see the people who supported me, the ways doors were opened, and the promise of love that extends past death.

Our scripture is full of stories that enable us to connect at the core levels of human experience. We must develop the vulnerability necessary to share our own stories with one another because they offer us a strength rooted in something far deeper than the idea that “everything will be okay.” A strength that reminds us that we are not alone in that moment. A strength that enables me to say boldly, “I had heard about you before, but now my eyes see you.”

Prayer: May I know the power of companionship.

Reflection: What holds me back from sharing my stories of grief and loss? How might I open up to others to offer spiritual companionship?

Art:  Found on Vete a La Verga by Vincent D. Cervante a powerful entry on grief and rage published on the blog “Religious Response.”