Over this Lenten season, the Spiritual Formation team at First Presbyterian Church in Bend put a call out to all to submit writings for a Lenten Devotional. I will do my best to post those here daily. You can also go to our website and access all of the devotions on a pdf file.
Here is the next submission:
Holy Stripping: A Lenten Reflection
“Grief is a sacred time when we rearrange our fragments into a new definition of wholeness.”
About eight years ago I left a thirteen year teaching position at Lewis & Clark College, a new home we’d just designed and built, family and friends, a city (Portland) I loved, familiar patterns, all my props, to move to Bend, where Jay, my husband, had accepted a university leadership position. I knew no one, had no work, felt a profound loss of identity and a deep disorientation. A friend said to me, “Ah, Caryl, you’re experiencing holy stripping.” I instantly understood. I was disrobed of the cloak of external identities. Holy stripping, indeed. I felt bereft and naked. Blessedly, gradually a new larger life came in, offering me a chance at my true ministry and calling, but only after a long period of waiting, grieving, soul-searching, and letting go of the old self.
This Lenten season returns us to the story of Jesus’ ending days, His holy stripping, death, and transfiguration. To me the saddest, starkest part of Jesus’ story is His time in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked His friends to stay awake while He prayed. They dozed off, abandoning Him in His hours of agony. There He asked that this cup be taken from Him; the answer was silence. What do we do in these times?
Jesus said, “I am the way.” What is ‘the way’ in times of holy stripping? Jesus held His Divinity next to His humanity, a sacred paradox. That was His way, and our potential. When Jesus was disrobed of His physical life and ministry, He moved into a larger Presence, a transcendence He couldn’t attain in bodily form.
Holy stripping can arrive with a phone call announcing a death, a job loss, loss of fortune, a betrayal. Our busy lives numb us to the threat of loss, yet we cannot avoid the holy stripping of aging, loss, and the many assaults on our identities. Now, we all stand in collective witness as neighbors, friends, and family get stripped of their livelihoods, retirement funds, and any sense of security for the future, laid waste by corruption and greed–a deep violation of, and threat to, our very democracy.
When we find ourselves at the crossroads of loss and suffering, stripped of what defines us, what’s left? Part of the agony of these times is that we can’t see what’s being ushered in, born in the ashes of what’s destroyed, for usually when there is a holy stripping transpiring, a new life is waiting in the wings. No one invites suffering, yet paradoxically, these times can be the most meaningful of our lives, the best and the worst claiming the same territory. These are soul-making times: we’re invited into our depths, a sacred Homecoming to a deeper connection with the Divine. New life results.
When I was little I was told to give up something for Lent. I proudly gave up chocolate, my favorite food in the world. I bragged to friends about my “Christian” sacrifice. I had no idea about the meaning of this tradition (although the chocolate Easter bunnies tasted especially delicious after the long fast). Lent is a larger invitation to an intentional time of fasting from our busyness and distractions, a slowing, an opening to emptiness, entering the Garden and greeting a larger Presence. This is the ground of our True Selves, the invitation of the cross. Sadly, many of us only receive this gift of contemplation and deepening when we’re arrested by grief or loss. But we can learn to approach this Sacred Garden voluntarily, through our contemplative lives, prayer and practices. Regardless of how “holy stripping” arrives during this season, may you mine the richness of the home ground of your soul, your birthright, your invitation in this Lenten season.
— Caryl Hurtig Casbon