I’m going to invite you to go on a journey with me this Lent. It’s not an outward journey but an inward one.

There are 40 days in Lent, not counting the Sundays. 40 is a special number both for the Jewish community and for the Church. Because 40 is the number for transformation. So, the ancient Hebrews wandered for 40 years in the desert before entering the Promised land. Jesus went to the desert to fast and pray for 40 days before beginning his ministry. And he lay in the tomb for 40 hours.

So I’m inviting all of us to take a journey this Lent. It’s the longest journey that a Westerner can take: It’s the journey from the head to the heart.

What I’m going to ask us all to do is to try to open up our hearts this Lent to the suffering in this world. Most of the time when we see something terrible we do feel pity. And maybe we feel a certain relief that it didn’t happen to us. We’re only being human in that moment.

But I’m going to ask us to stay with that grief and suffering and misery this Lent.

“Attention, attention must be paid,” as it says about poor Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. I’m going to ask us to pay attention to that suffering.

The world today overstimulates us. There’s too much media and too much information.

I’m a grad student at San Diego State in the History Dept. I enjoy being with these young people. The department is a good one. But around campus between classes I see all these young people staring into their phones. They’re engaging in what is called distracted walking.

Instead, I’m inviting us to try to experience life, all of life, in the here and now. To be fully alive in this moment.

So I’m inviting all of us to ask God to open up your hearts a little in this holy season. To move us out of ourselves and to try to imagine what life feels like to someone else.

The usual human reaction to suffering is to turn away. But I’m asking you, along with me, instead, to try to stay with it a moment longer. Try to attend to it. And then maybe offer it up to God for God’s own redeeming.

Marcus Borg was a New Testament scholar who died a few years ago. He used to talk about the closed and open heart.

A closed heart is the way you feel waiting in line at the grocery store. You’re bored and no one looks good to you.

But an open heart happens when you suddenly start to see God in other people. When you realize that they’re just like you. Sometimes happy. Sometime moody. Sometimes sad. Sometimes worried. They have health concerns and maybe money concerns just like you and me.

Try to let your heart open this Lent.

I go to the Forums almost every Sunday. Your staff does a tremendous job providing us with real spiritual food Sunday in and Sunday out. One of the most memorable Forums was one on Queer theology. I have had quite a bit of theological training as a Presbyterian minister, but this was something new for me.

The most moving part of the presentation was Queer art, art by the LGBT community. Much of it showed Jesus as an outsider like them, because he also was “despised and rejected of men.” And in that moment I saw the LGBT community in a new way. And I also saw Jesus in a new way because of them.

I invite you, then, when you see some human misfortune or suffering in these coming 40 days to lay another picture over that image of suffering. Instead of looking away, lay a mental image of Jesus the Suffering One, the Crucified One, over them very gently. Just hold them there for as long as you can. And see where that takes your heart.

Unto the One who lived and suffered and died and was raised for us, be honor, glory, and dominion, now and forever. Amen. 

Peter Del Nagro

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