On Ash Wednesday we committed ourselves to a season of “prayer, fasting and self-examination.” We all know that we fail to fully live into our baptismal promises and need this annual time to step back, reflect, repent and renew our Christian walk. There is a certain trepidation as we wonder what we will see and hear!
We will quickly identify recurring areas of personal struggle—the places where temptation or social pressures lead us into thoughts and actions that are inconsistent with the gospel. We may have shared in conversations unfairly critical of others, or indulged in unhealthy practices or resisted looking at our participation in social systems that discriminate. There are also areas of our lives we do not see clearly, where we hurt others, harm ourselves and are distanced from God, and we need others to assist us in our self-examination to recognize them.
However, asking others to help us “see clearly” requires vulnerability and humility. We need to listen to the critiques of others without defensiveness to hear how we are perceived, even if our intentions were different from what others assumed them to be. This requires a posture of powerlessness that is rarely comfortable, because allowing others to tell us what they see, hear and experience in our relationship means we must let go of our assumptions about ourselves. That is also the posture needed before God to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts.
I am always grateful that God is both gentle and persistent in the personal transformation that is invited through self-examination. The Holy Spirit brings forward in heart and mind the areas that need to be examined and invites us to reflect, as we are able, in order for us to take another step in the journey of faith. If we refuse, that same invitation returns persistently, knocking at the door of our hearts and souls until we are willing and ready to see, hear and change. That invitation to self-examination and transformation is also to us as a church.
The Holy Spirit reveals where we, as a community, need to repent and renew our witness to the gospel. Sometimes that Spirit speaks through strong, prophetic voices within and outside our church. The call of Indigenous peoples led to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and continues to provoke and challenge us to continuing healing work in our relationships. The LGBTQ2+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirited and other) community has called for recognition of their full humanity in our midst. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) members within our church have challenged us to dismantle racism in our governance and ministries. Loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength is always inextricably linked with loving our neighbours.
Self-examination may also be a time when we hear God’s affirmation of love. Though we fall short we are always loved now, in this moment, even in the midst of our failings. Shame or guilt may move us for a time but it is love that invites us to see and sustain new possibilities for ourselves and our church. Love is the foundation for lasting transformation as it is always hope-filled, energizing and stronger than death itself.
I pray that this Lent will be a rich time of self-examination for each of us personally and for us as a church, rooted and grounded in the love of God that fills us with hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.