Making a Difference in the Wilderness – Keeping a Holy Lent

March 06, 2017

Dear friends,

Now that Lent is well and truly underway, I wanted to write to remind you of all that is planned at the Cathedral during this holy season, and encourage you to make every effort to walk with Jesus through the Wilderness to the Way of the Cross. For if Lent barely touches your life — both on Sundays, and on every day in between — then you will find that the joy of Easter makes little impact on you either.

And, very fittingly, Lent at the Cathedral this year is all about being in the Wilderness and learning how to make a difference there. For it is plain to me that a great many people inside and way beyond the St. James community feel trapped in the wilderness of the current political situation. Hurt, anger, frustration, and bewilderment are being expressed in so many times and places, as modern-day-Satans test and tempt us. So let’s look at what we can do as we journey with Jesus in the Lenten wilderness…

Making a difference to others

The world is a dangerous and frightening wilderness to the 500 or so 16–24 year olds experiencing homelessness in the city of Chicago each night, based on data from 2016. The city is blessed that Covenant House, a movement founded in 1972, has come to Illinois to open a facility just a few blocks from us on Chicago Avenue. It is the largest privately funded charity in the Americas providing loving care and vital services to homeless, abandoned, abused, trafficked, and exploited youth.

If you were in church yesterday, I hope you took home a pence can, which you can use to help you set aside a Lenten offering to be given by St. James Cathedral to our new neighbors. But you don’t need a pence can to make a Lenten gift, and I urge you to make this part of your Wilderness Action this Lent, so that at Easter, we can make a real, substantial difference to the lives of homeless young people in our city.

If you would like to know more about the work of Covenant House, its Executive Director, Joseph Mole will be speaking at the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services on March 19.

Making a difference understanding God

Lent is the time when we grow close to God. Jesus enters the Wilderness because God the Holy Spirit drives him there, after the enormity of his encounter with God at the moment of his baptism. We walk with God in Lent in the hope of knowing God more fully. To that end, as I have said in the announcements in church in recent weeks, I want to encourage you to re-encounter God through the extraordinary novel "The Shack," which has just been released as a major movie starring Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington. You can find details of where and when The Shack is playing here, and you can purchase the book here.

One of the earliest Christian writers said that "The glory of God is humans fully alive, and the life of humanity is the vision of God." I believe that if you read "The Shack" you will come to understand this more fully.

I will be leading three study sessions inspired by "The Shack" this Spring – one in Lent, one in Eastertide, and the final one (fittingly) on Trinity Sunday. The dates and themes are:

  • March 19 – In the Wilderness with God: Guilt, Sin, Pain, and Loss
  • April 23 – Incarnation and Resurrection: God in the World
  • June 11 – Three in One and One in Three: Relating to God as Trinity

Many people have told me how moved they were by what we learned from Bishop Stephen Cottrell the other week. The crux of his message was the need of Christians to be able to talk easily, honestly, and persuasively about God and our faith to those around us — especially, perhaps, to those who are walking through their own wildernesses. These sessions are designed to help us do that.

You are welcome to attend these sessions without watching or reading The Shack, but you will get way more out of them if you do!

Making a difference in the world

If we going to be effective Christians, then our faith needs to shape our interaction with the wilderness that is the world around us. Desmond Tutu once remarked, "When people say that the Bible and politics don’t mix, I ask them which Bible they are reading!"  We have three events this Lent with that focus very clearly in mind. Two are Dean’s Forums about how we relate to the political challenges around us:

Sunday, March 12, Lisa and I will talk about Politics, Policies and the Church, and on March 26, the Rev. Dr. Jim Walters, Chaplain of the London School of Economics, will talk about Church and Politics in the Anglican Tradition today. This is a chance to refocus on what we talk about and how we talk about it.

Our next Choral Evensong on Sunday April 2 at 4 p.m. features guest preacher, Professor Luke Bretherton, a renowned ethicist, who will preach a sermon called "Christ & Community" and challenge us anew about how we are called to make a difference to the world.

If you think it is a Wilderness out there, come along and work out what we are called to do about it.

Making a difference to ourselves

And most importantly…Lent is about letting God help us change ourselves. If we don’t, we have scarce hope of changing the world and leading it out of the wilderness. I urge you to think about your relationship to God, to your neighbor, and to your church.

Find some time to pray a little longer and a little more often. Come to a mid-week service...we celebrate the Eucharist every day during the week! Read the Bible. Make a sacramental confession and hear God’s word of forgiveness speak to you.

And above all, prepare for Holy Week. We have one of England’s finest preachers accompanying us through Holy Week this year, the Rev. Canon David Painter. Echoing the words of a much beloved hymn, David will be challenging us with the ultimate Holy Week question: Were you there?

Put the Dean’s Forum on Sunday, April 2 on your calendar, when you will have the chance to be reminded about what Holy Week involves and is all about. Try to make an undertaking now to keep your calendar clear that week, so you can walk with your sisters and brothers at St. James through this ultimate week, and discover anew the power and the joy of resurrection.

And then you will understand why God sends us to the Wilderness, and you will learn the great truth that Lent, truly, is Easter in disguise.


Your priest and friend,

The Very Rev. Dominic Barrington
Dean of the Cathedral 

Author: Alan Taylor