Subtraction

Scripture Passage:  Luke 9: 23-24
23Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.24For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

So, out in that wilderness, Jesus was doing more than just being tempted.  The wilderness is not something that is done TO us.  It is a place you enter, a place you experience, a place in which you change.  But change is hard.  It is not something that happens by just piling on more stuff.  A couple of years ago, I had my bathroom remodeled.  Well, intellectually I knew that in order to build something new, you had to first tear out the old.  But it was still disconcerting.  At the end of the contractor’s first day of work, I walked into the house and saw all of my things covered in plastic.  That in and of itself was strange.  But then there was the bathroom.  There were no lights (because the electricity has been disconnected and partially ripped out) but all I saw was an empty room walled no longer by tile and paint but by raw wood.  And there, there where the toilet had been, was a big gaping hole.  All of the fixtures (yes I mean ALL of the fixtures) were piled in my yard.  I had this sinking feeling.  “What have I done?”

Our faith journey is no different.  We do not go through our lives collecting more and more knowledge about God or more and more spiritual disciplines.  Try as we might, we cannot continue to take on increased faith and hope to cram it into our already-busy lives and our already-over-taxed bodies and our already-full minds.  Our faith journey, just like everything else in life, does not work like that.  Early 14th century German theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart said that “God is not attained by a process of addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction.”  Our faith journey must involve letting go of those things to which we hold so tight, of creating room for God to fill us.

The Season of Lent has traditionally been one in which many people are compelled to give up something.  Most think that by creating that want, one will be reminded to think of God.  I suppose that works.  If you think of God every time you want chocolate, go for it.  Other people spend Lent adding something to their life, perhaps something that they know that they need to be including in their faith journey anyway.  So while both of these ways of journeying through Lent are good, I’m not sure that either is enough.  (Shoot!  You mean I gave up chocolate and it’s not even enough???)  No, seriously, subtraction and addition are good things but they are both necessary.  As Meister Eckhart reminds us, our faith journey is first an act of subtraction, shedding those things that pull us away, that distract us, that get in the way of who we are.  They are the temptations that we so want to hold onto for comfort, for security, for power, for control.  Let go.  That’s what the Scripture says.  Let go of what you think your life is.  Create room.  And then God will have room to add the things that give you life–trust, strength, faith. 

This Lenten journey is not just one of giving up.  It is a season of ordering, or remodeling one’s life, tearing away the things that you thought you needed so that God can create something new.  But it’s more than a season.  Each Lenten journey is a part of our whole journey.  So rather than it being a temporary way station, this experience of subtraction is part of the Way itself.  Lent is just a time to teach us that.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

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