Lent

Dr. Sachi Nakamura(JCFN Board member, Christian books translator, Spiritual Director)

 

Hi everyone. The Lenten season started March 6 this year. How are you spending days in this Lent? As many Reformed churches do not emphasize liturgical calendar, some of you might be unfamiliar with the meaning of Lent.

The universally accepted calendar we use today is called Gregorian calendar and finds its origin in Julian calendar used in the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire first adapted a calendar starting on January 1st. Meanwhile, the liturgical calendar starts at the beginning of the Advent. Also in this calendar, a year is divided into seasons of Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, according to the life of Jesus and works of the Church. Acknowledging the seasons on the liturgical calendar in our daily life, we are reminded that we are living in Kairos (time of God) as God’s people.

 

Now, Lent is the forty days (without counting Sundays) before Easter. It is the season for us to return to God, the season to reflect and repent, and the season to rededicate ourselves through prayers, Scriptures, and fasting. Traditionally, inspired by the forty days of Wilderness experience of Jesus, people have given up some food or activities.

 

Some people say that the purpose of fasting and giving up in Lent is not to create pains and suffering to ourselves but to create a room for a better nourishment. For instance, by restricting food, we gain deeper insight from the Scriptures; by restricting our regular activities, we gain time for prayers. Historically, some people donated for the poor by saving money for their meat and/or wine. Several years ago while going through a trying time, I gave up “worrying” during the Lent and tried to give thanks to God instead of worrying. There is no instructions in Bible about how to spend Lent. So we can seek for God’s guidance in prayer to find a way to spend Lenten season.  Isn’t it awesome that we are given opportunities to rededicate ourselves to the Lord, day by day, season by season, as often as possible?

 

About half of Lenten Season is past this year. But there are still three more weeks before Easter. If you have not thought about Lent but now you started feeling led, may I encourage you to spend the next three weeks in prayer and reflection, thinking of Jesus’ Passion on the cross for our sins, examining to see if you find an area of life where you are led to return to the Lord?

Examen

Dr. Sachi Nakamura (JCFN Board member, Translator of Christian Books, Spiritual Director)

Daily Examen is a method of prayer taught and practiced by Ignacio de Loyola (St. Ignatius), Jesuits. It is a Spiritual Training to be able to tell the move and the guidance of the Spirit by reflecting the past 24 hours, paying attention to the Presence of God during that period, marked by His love.

Paul taught us to walk by the Spirit, led by the Spirit, and live by the Spirit. (Galatians 5) He also said “Do not suppress the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19)  Jesus also said, “Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says. (John 7:38)

We hope to always remain in the flow of the living water and to walk by the Spirit’s leading. But in our actual life, we often step out of the flow of the living water and live a life led by the desire of the flesh. Meanwhile, if we look back, we can tell of many moments when the Spirit helped us, or guided us.

In Daily Examen, we look back a day and consciously examine when we were led by the Spirit, walked with the Spirit, suppressed the Spirit and walked by the desire of the flesh. While doing this, you do not have to go over or analyze every detail of the day. Not only paying attention to obviously important incidents but also you should take note of things that came to your mind, no matter minute they may seem to you. Ask the Spirit to show you everything you ought to know. You might find an unexpected God’s blessing hidden in a detail that you had thought unimportant.

 

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Here are the basic steps of this exercise.

 

1) Be aware of God’s Presence and give thanks.

Take a few deep breaths. Quiet your mind and heart in front of the Lord. Be aware of God’s Presence, His willingness to be with us. Recognize everything—this day, life, salvation—is gift from God and give thanks.

 

2) Ask the Spirit to guide this process

Ask for the blessing that you might be able to look back your day just like the way God is looking at it. Ask also for the blessing that things God wants to show us might come to your mind.

 

3) Look back your day, pay particular attention to the move of your emotions.

By the guidance of the Spirit, with thanksgiving, look back events of the day. What did I say? How did I behave? What was my intention, motivation, and/or emotion at each occasion? What was my reaction to the incidents of today? How did I feel? Joy, concern, excitement, boredom, confidence, irritation, care, anger, relief…?  How was God present to you during the incidents of the day? How God guided you? What was God trying to tell you? How was your reaction, response, or attitude? How did I feel about his Presence or absence? Was I facing toward God or leaving from Him?

 

4) Thanksgiving, Confession, Forgiveness

Come to terms with the power of sins or the power of the blessings that worked within you during the day. It is a good idea to ask the Spirit to show one particularly important incident and focus on it. If you were able to respond to God’s guidance and blessing, give thanks for it. If you realize you were not able to respond to God’s love or calling and sinned or made mistakes, confess them in the Presence and ask for forgiveness.

 

 

5) Pray for tomorrow

Ask God for the blessings and assistances you would need for the following day.

 

The above is one example of this practice of prayer. There are many variations. You could set up the period of reflection for a week, a month, a year, instead of a day.

 

When you look back a day (or for a longer period of time), it is a good idea not to follow the incident in the chronological order but to consider when you felt most thankful, when you felt least thankful, when you were filled with love, when you did not feel love, when you were most alive, when you were most distant from God’s life, when you felt connected with God or others, when you felt disconnected with God or other.

 

Prayers of reflection help us to be sensitive to the moves of God, who works in the flow of your daily life, and to His voice. What a blessing to stop periodically and to look back how you walked with God! This prayer is not to blame you or defeat you. Rather, it will help you to be more thankful by paying closer attention to His Presence in your daily life. This practice also gives us opportunities to repent daily. We hope this exercise of prayer might help you find God’s abundant blessings might flow into your daily life.

 

Reference:Ignatian Spirituality  https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen

The Monk Manifesto

Sachi Nakamura(JCFN Board member, Translator of Christian books, Spiritual Director)

 

The other day, I came across an online site about “The Monk Manifesto.” It struck a chord with me and I would like to share it with you.

 

 

The Monk Manifesto

 

1. I commit to finding moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.

2. I commit to radical acts of hospitality by welcoming the stranger both without and within. I recognize that when I make space inside my heart for the unclaimed parts of myself, I cultivate compassion and the ability to accept those places in others.

3. I commit to cultivating community by finding kindred spirits along the path, soul friends with whom I can share my deepest longings, and mentors who can offer guidance and wisdom for the journey.

4. I commit to cultivating awareness of my kinship with creation and a healthy asceticism by discerning my use of energy and things, letting go of what does not help nature to flourish.

5. I commit to bringing myself fully present to the work I do, whether paid or unpaid, holding a heart of gratitude for the ability to express my gifts in the world in meaningful ways.

6. I commit to rhythms of rest and renewal through the regular practice of Sabbath and resist a culture of busyness that measures my worth by what I do.

7.  I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.

 

There is also a video version of the Monk Manifesto, where there is an additional principle that states, “I am a dancing monk.”

 

 

When hearing the word “monk,” Protestants may think that those people are not relevant to them. However, I think that the word “monk” is used to encompass all Christians who seek to deepen their relationship with God through prayer and desire a life of retreating.

 

All seven of the principles in the manifesto spoke to me. However, the phrase “dancing monk” in the additional principle was especially intriguing to me. We usually associate the word “dance” with  joy and celebration. Therefore, this phrase reminds us of the joy of salvation and hope for the future that the Lord has given us. Interestingly, perichoresis, a word that describes the trinity, literally means “dancing around together.” Indeed, our God is a dancing God, and we are also invited into His communal dance of internal fellowship of deep love…. Those were some of the imageries that the phrase “dancing monk” sparked in me.

 

Which of those seven principles did you find captivating to your heart? Did you find one of them especially challenging? Do you feel led to particularly explore one of the principles?

 

The Liturgical Calendar has already entered the new year. The Christian Era is about to enter the year 2019. What is God’s invitation to you for this new year?

 

 

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