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Preparing for Lent – A Spiritual Retreat

February 26, 2020
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On this Ash Wednesday, Rev. JoNell Lindh recalls her recent experience at the Academy for Spiritual Formation retreat. Her reflection on Thomas Merton serves as the perfect lead into Lent. To learn more about the retreat, email Rev. Lindh.

Earlier this month, I joined almost 80 men and women at the Prothro Methodist Retreat Center at the edge of Lake Texoma for a five-day Academy for Spiritual Formation Retreat. I serve on the leadership team for the retreat, which offers a combination of silence and conversation, rest and relationship. To be in the rustic setting of the lakeside, to wander the many trails through the piney woods and be overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation is heaven to me. We worship in the morning, at midday and in the evening, and in between learn from acclaimed presenters. The daily Benedictine rhythm that is created from the cycle of silence, conversation, rest and relationship opens our hearts and minds to wisdom and Word, and restores needed balance in our lives.

This year, the theme was At the Edge with Thomas Merton and the Jesus Way. Our presenter was Dr. Loyd Allen, who guided us into the life and teachings of Thomas Merton, a contemporary Trappist monk who lived the last part of his life as a hermit, engaging in daily prayer and contemplation to learn more about the nature of God. Merton wrote more than 50 books, 2,000 poems, and was a gifted photographer. His profound observations and writings drew many famous theologians and spiritual leaders to his side including the Dalai Lama and eventually Martin Luther King, Jr. as Merton began to turn more to social justice goals.

If I could comprehend a mere two inches of the depth of Merton’s understanding, I would consider it life changing. One of Merton’s premises I found most compelling is the idea that we contain a true self (the self God created me to be) and a false self (the self I think I am or who I think God created me to be). Merton’s notion of the True Self and the False Self related to my image of pride and humility, the desire to do good and the cunning of choosing evil. Merton’s wisdom allowed me to begin to wrap my mind and heart around the thought that I must strip away all my perceptions of God. My true self seeks God, but my false self tries to pull me in the wrong direction. I can’t find my own way to my true self – thankfully, God opens the door from the inside.

The teaching of our other presenter, internationally-known Biblical storyteller Rev. Grace Imathiu, helped to reinforce this. Rev. Imathiu told the story of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors. Consider that each of the colors in the coat represents our gifts. If my clergy robe, my Coat of Many Colors, becomes a source of pride to me, that is my false self. If I use my gifts to pour myself out for others, to be broken for others, I won’t be afraid. I desire to use my gifts in a way that flows from my true self – for God’s plan and purpose. 

As we head into Lent, enjoy this prayer from Thomas Merton as you reflect during this season.

I hope you might consider joining me at this special retreat next year, which will begin January 31. It is a perfect way to prepare your heart for the season of Lent.

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