#LentTogether: Entering the Fertile Void

#LentTogether: Entering the Fertile Void

Lent Together Booram bannerGuest Post by David and Beth Booram  for the #LentTogether Blog Series on Behind the Books

It was the first Good Friday since our world blew up. Our lives were literally turned upside down and seemingly everything that mattered was shaken up and emptied out: our community, vocation, friends, identity, innocence, security—gone.  As we sat in the old, hard pews of a dilapidated downtown church, home to a struggling band of almost-believers, we felt wary and worn. Our participation in a faith community had been spotty at best over the last several months since our resignation from the staff of a disillusioning mega-church. Often finding ourselves triggered by something said or not said, we felt guarded, hoping to avoid another spiral into fresh anger and the deeper depths of grief.

To our surprise, the simple service centered on “the God of all who Sorrow,” poignantly portrayed in Isaiah 53. This depiction of God resonated in our hearts as we’d come to mistrust the all-triumphant God we’d been offered, decade after decade. As we sat in the ashes of our former life, we heard with new ears the portrayal of this Anointed One who didn’t win, but lost; who suffered betrayal and torture, yet refused retribution. Something warmed within us; perhaps a prayer. “We can trust a God like this.” And, indeed, it is the God we now trust; the God who enters the fertile void of confusion, defeat, affliction and loss with us.

At that point in our journey of reconstructing our faith, we didn’t need the resurrection. We needed Good Friday. Since that time, the whole season of Lent has become an invitation to enter the fertile void with Christ—a strange paradox describing God’s fruitful work within the catacomb of death. The term was offered to us by our spiritual director several years ago and describes the active but hidden work of God in places of loss, emptiness, or disillusionment. Technically, it originates within Gestalt Theory and was coined by psychologist Fritz Perls, who described it as an experience where “meaning-making ceases and being begins.” In relation to Lent, this suggests that through the paschal mystery, we are invited to let go of trying to make sense of life and, instead, become present and open to all its griefs and gifts.

We didn’t need the resurrection. We needed Good Friday. Since that time, the whole season of Lent has become an invitation to enter the fertile void with Christ.

For two thirds of our adult life, the season of Lent was something we knew very little about. It wasn’t until this critical life event that we found ourselves drawn to engaging with the Lenten journey. In our new church, which loosely follows the Liturgical Calendar, we began to attend Ash Wednesday services and observe the varied seasons of the Church. Simultaneously, we also began to practice some form of fasting and discovered the value of experiencing Lent with our bodies. Daily lectionary or breviary readings that follow the Liturgical Year began to ground us in the yearly rhythm of Lent, as well.

But our full immersion into the practice of Lent really began six years ago when we started Sustainable Faith Indy (SFI), an urban, contemplative retreat center in Indianapolis. That first year, and each subsequent year, we have offered half or full day retreats during one week of Lent for those who’d like to engage more deeply with this holy season. During these retreats, we provide each retreatant a private room along with a written guide for the time. At noon, those coming, staying or leaving gather around the table for lunch. This year will be our sixth Lenten retreat at SFI and we estimate that we’ve offered hospitality to close to 200 pilgrims during these retreats. As we reflect back, it’s become one of our most fulfilling expressions of vocation.

Over the years of hosting Lenten retreats, participants have gathered for lunch, prayed a Lenten prayer together, and shared any gifts or concerns related to their retreat. In addition, the written guide has often included a contemplative art reflection and invitation to participate in a communal art project. One year, retreatants reflected on Joel 2:12-13 and the idea of allowing God to “tear” our hearts with the things that tear at God’s heart. We tore paper into a shape representing our hearts and added symbols or words to represent the injustices in the world that most vexed us; the injustices we felt most drawn to address. Then we tore our hearts in two, keeping half as a remembrance of the retreat and applying half to a large canvas with the image of Christ on the cross. It was a beautiful, creative, collective expression of participating in Lent together.

Lent upholds the paschal mystery of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as a vivid embodiment of the fertile void. As individuals in community, each year we are welcomed into this profound mystery once again—invited to rest in it rather than resist it, to open to the dark shades of emptiness and the bright potential for rebirth. This often goes against the grain of our constitution as activists who favor doing and fixing over stilling and being. It challenges our preference for winning over losing. Yet it is in this place of relinquishing that we find solidarity with Christ and one another; the fruitful harvest of lent together.

Recommended Reading

The Art of Lent by Sister Wendy BeckettA Lenten resource that has been helpful to us is The Art of Lent: A Painting a Day from Ash Wednesday to Easter by Sister Wendy Beckett. Her perceptive reflections show how art can help you experience Lent and encounter deeper levels of spiritual meaning through creative contemplation.

About the Authors

David and Beth BooramDavid and Beth Booram are cofounders and directors of Sustainable Faith Indy, an urban, contemplative retreat center in Indianapolis. As trained spiritual directors, they offer spiritual direction to individuals and groups, as well as train others interested in becoming spiritual directors through the Sustainable Faith School of Spiritual Direction. Beth is the coauthor of Awaken Your Senses and author of Starting Something New. Beth and David are coauthoring a book with the working title On the Lookout for God, which will be released by IVP in 2019, and will include a chapter about the fertile void.

Read Beth’s blog at bethbooram.org. Connect with David on Instagram or follow Beth on Twitter: @bethbooram.

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