For many Christians, Lent offers an invitation into an extended period of reflection, an opportunity to re-calibrate our lives and align ourselves more fully to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Such a process is, of course, not limited to a particular season of the year, and certainly not to a particular season of our lives, nor is it a journey just for Christians but for all who are seeking greater spiritual depth and meaning in their lives.
My new book, Soul Journey, is written for all such seekers travelling the sometimes rocky road towards becoming the best we can be, both individually and collectively. Using the metaphor of a mountain hike, it invites you to embark on your own journey of spiritual renewal, helping you to find signposts along the way, recognise common obstacles, pause at sources of refreshment and encouragement, and meet some of the big challenges that we face, both personally and globally. Each day's journey is guided by scripture and illustrated with reflective text and stories from everyday life.
For some people, the Lenten journey follows an individual path, for others it will be a group experience shared with fellow pilgrims, but none of us makes the journey alone. We are all accompanied day by day by the One who calls himself the Way and guides our every step. The journey culminates in the events of Holy Week – events that may feel like a series of terrible endings, but in fact become portals into a whole new beginning in the promise of Easter.
What follows is a taster for Soul Journey, beginning with the reflection for Ash Wednesday, with the title Life Seasons:
There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
If we wait for the right season to begin a journey, we will probably never set out. This is true whether the journey is a change of direction in our outer life, or a deepening perspective on our inner life. It's so easy to find a reason to wait, until the perfect day arrives. Sometimes an external event can be the catalyst that gets us going. The tradition of undertaking a Lenten journey also offers us a reason and a season to venture more deeply into our spiritual life. Whether you are using this book during Lent or at any other time of the year, one thing is true. Today is the first day of the next stage of your soul journey.
The writer of Ecclesiastes has given us a memorable phrase, often used in many different contexts. For everything there is a season. What does this observation tell us about the nature of the journey ahead of us? What spiritual seasons might we recognise, and what season is currently governing our hearts and minds?
There's a season for building things up, and a season for letting things go. Both are good and necessary at different times of our life. Generally speaking the first half of life is the season of acquiring, building up, growing and expanding, and the second half of life urges us to let go of much that we have acquired, in a natural process of emptying.
There's a season for fighting battles, and a season for retreating from the fray and conserving our energy for more important matters. There's a season for throwing ourselves, heart and soul into new projects and adventures, and there's a season for resting quietly and reflecting on our experience.
There's a time for actively protesting about the state of the world, and a time for standing back and recognising what we can and cannot change and seeking the wisdom to know the difference. A time for saving the world and a time for reflecting on what changes need to happen in ourselves. A time for speaking out, and a time for keeping quiet.
In every life there are seasons of rejoicing – over new life, a new relationship, a new home, a new job – and seasons of grieving for a lost love, a missed opportunity, a broken heart.
Every life knows many seasons. We know our springtime, when a limitless future stretches ahead of us. We know our summertime, when the blossom fades but our life's fruitfulness is taking shape. We know the mellow light of harvest time, when our life's day is growing shorter but the fruits are being gathered and stored. And then comes winter. The season of dying back and the time for facing wind and cold, yet knowing that beneath the frozen earth fresh life is quietly sleeping.
The spiritual landscape also has its seasons. There are times of unquestioning faith in the ways of God and times of disturbing doubt. There are times when the river of faith runs clear and bright and times when it seems to dry up. There are times when we gladly seek the embrace of a faith community and times when we need to be alone to ponder the mystery as we search for our own deepest truth. There are times when we are vividly aware of the presence of the Holy and times when we have no felt sense of the presence of God.
I am now in the later stages of my life, and mindful of the need for some radical de-cluttering, to save my family a painful task when I leave the world. In the course of this process I have shredded seven volumes of my own spiritual journals and passed the result to my friend who rescues old chickens from battery farms to offer them a contented retirement in her garden when their 'useful' life is over.
My journals now provide comfortable bedding for these veterans, and there is something that feels profoundly right about that. For one thing it means that no-one except the chickens will ever read them, but it has also given me the opportunity to browse through what I have written through the years and to realise that issues that completely dominated my thoughts and prayers in the past and kept me awake at night, banging on God's door in search of a resolution, have passed by now like water under a bridge, finding their own untangling, and allowing me to move on in my life.
As we welcome the flow of memory may we also welcome the legacy of all the seasons of our lives, both the harsh and the gentle, knowing that the Way is greater than all of those who walk it, and is guided by safer hands.
.... to ask for the grace to notice the various seasons of our lives, gratefully receiving their fruits and to recognise where we find ourselves right now.
© Margaret Silf. Soul Journey is available now at www.dltbooks.com and all good bookstores for £12.99.