Wed, Jan. 22

Lent — 40-day retreat of reflection, rediscovery

Staff photo by Carol Keefer


byterian minister Rev. Robert F. Clark and wife Bobbye, a pastoral counselor, direct candlelight Lenten services at the Verde Valley Presbyterian Church in Cottonwood (off Fir Street).

"For many Christians around the world, Lent is a season of self examination, prayer and spiritual discipline that reflects the 40 days when Christ fasted and prayed in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry and more broadly his suffering and sacrificial death on the cross," explained Pastor Bob Jones of the Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church in Cottonwood. "It begins on Ash Wednesday (March 5 this year) as we receive ashes on our foreheads and hear the somber words that God spoke to Adam and Eve after the Fall, 'Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return' (Gen. 3:19).

"We also share the assurance of God's forgiveness in Christ as we share the Lord's Supper. Starting with God’s word and the dust and ashes of repentance, during Lent we faithfully prepare for New Life in the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ at Easter."

Father Derk Manley, St. Thomas of the Valley Episcopal Church in Clarkdale, offers a modern-day analogy:

"The other night I watched the program, American Idol. You know, the program where unknowns from all over America risk public humiliation and sing their hearts out in front of three judges. At the end of each performance, the judges give a brief critique of each performer.

"Here is what surprised me — almost without exception each performer dismissed any comments that were not complimentary. Some went so far as to launch personal attacks on the judges telling them they knew nothing about them or music. Why do I bring this up? Criticism is difficult for any of us. It is hard to look into our hearts and lives to discern what within us and about us can be improved upon.

"One of the many paradoxes of Christian life is this — God unconditionally loves us exactly as we are and also challenges us to stretch ourselves in the pursuit of excellence and self-improvement. The prophet Isaiah spoke of God's joy in new possibilities: 'Forget the former things; do not dwell in the past.' (Isaiah 43:18-19)

"Our culture responds to Lent much in the same way the participants in American Idol respond to the judges' comments. We do not take kindly to the idea of anyone suggesting we might improve ourselves. Each of us contends we are fine as we are, and no criticism or judgment is warranted. God has a different idea. According to Him, there is always room for growth and honesty. He believes in us even when we do not. He sees our beauty even when all we see appears anything but beautiful.

"The heart of Lent is best expressed by our praying to see ourselves as God sees us, without shame and with all the love any parent feels at their child's first performance. Don't be afraid to improve and do not be afraid to make what is already great even better. With God's loving help, nothing is impossible."

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