March: Creative Contemplation
The goal of contemplative practices is to develop deep intimacy with God, but sitting still and silently meditating isn't the only way to do that. Our unique gifts, talents, heritages, and cultures all contribute to how we uniquely draw near to God. So, to celebrate this (and hopefully inspire you to contemplate more creatively), each month we'll post a different piece of art along with some reflecting questions.
Some months this will be a song, a poem, a painting, a video, or a sculpture. Some months the piece will resonate deeply with you, some months it may upset you, and some months it may confuse you. Lean into whatever feelings the piece stirs up and allow it to draw you nearer to God's heart and expose your own.
Wednesday, March 6, marks the beginning of the Lent, a season of repentance as we draw near to Christ on his journey to the Cross, culminating in the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. This month’s Creative Contemplation invitation comes from a Lenten devotional titled 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast by Alicia Britt Chole. Each “day” in the devotional includes an unconventional thing to fast to help us draw near to God.
Below is Day 20, an invitation to reflect on some of Jesus’ parables and fast hypocrisy and unleavened bread.
40 Days of Decrease: Day 20
Between this point [Jesus’ interactions with the chief priests and elders in Matthew 21] and the accounts of the Last Supper, the Gospel writers devoted the majority of their ink to the retelling of Jesus’ final parables and teachings. One-third of Jesus’ parables and two-thirds of Jesus’ teachings during this critical Passion Week space were spoken to or directed at religious leaders. After He closed the question posed by the chief priests and elders, Jesus opened a few questions of His own via the Parable of the Two Sons and the Parable of the Tenants. Teaching in the temple courts, Jesus told the story of a father who asked his two sons to go work in his vineyard. One son said “yes” and lived “no,” while the second son said “no” and lived “yes.” Jesus then asked: “Which of the tow did what the father wanted? (Matthew 21:31) When the leaders verbalized the obvious, Jesus linked His new question with their closed one and said:
Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. (Matthew 21:31-31)
In His response, Jesus answered His own question clearly: was John’s baptism from heaven or from men? It was from heaven. Further, those who repented after listening to John showed themselves to be God’s obedient children.
Before the leaders could regroup, Jesus told them another parable that was even more pointed. A landowner rented his well-situated vineyard to some farmers. Yet when he sent his servants to collect what was due him, the tenants beat, stoned, and killed them. Finally the landowner sent his son, hoping that he would be respected, but the tenants killed the heir as well. Then Jesus boldly asked the leaders what the owner would do to such tenants. Seemingly oblivious to whom they were in the story, the leaders replied, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end…and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants.” (Matthew 21:43) “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. (Matthew 21:45)
Holy rebukes. And this was just a warm-up to the painfully public critique Jesus made of the teachers of the law and Pharisees recorded in Matthew 23. Jesus’ message rang clear in this interim: God’s love language is not words alone. We can talk all we want, but at the end of the day, we will also be judged by what we did. “Where then is mercy?” some might ask. For Jesus’ disciples then and today, mercy is inherent within Jesus’ rebukes because to hear them is to still have breath to respond to them with repentance.
Oh, if this book were titled 100 Days of Decrease I would have loved to linger in each parable and teaching! Select a parable or one of the teachings below aimed specifically at the religious leaders [or our parable in The Abbey this month!] and ask God to give you the strength to find yourself in the story.
Today’s Fast: Leavened Bread
During the Exodus, God’s people hurriedly left Egypt and “took their dough before the yeast was added” (Exodus 12:34). Yeast became a symbol of what was to be left behind in Egypt: hypocrisy, corruption, and bondage. Post-Exodus, “possibly because fermentation implied disintegration and corruption, leaven was excluded from all offerings placed on the alter to be sacrificed to God.” Jesus used leaven as a metaphor of false teaching and hypocrisy. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1) And to this day during the Jewish Passover, leavened breads are fasted to commemorate the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery.
Today, I invite you to fast leavened breads as a symbol of rejecting hypocrisy. Feel free to take up the challenge of buying or making unleavened breads, or simply fast flour entirely. Before each leaven-free meal, pause quietly and ask God to search your heart for any remnants of hypocrisy.