Space for the Spirit in Lent
“Two spaces after a period before starting a new sentence.” That’s what I was told when learning how to type one summer between college and seminary. A dear friend and a gifted writer told me last week that one of those spaces has been taken away. Indeed The Chicago Manual of Style now says that one space is the norm. The primary reason for a single space is efficiency. Of course, it all comes down to efficiency, as so much seems to these days. They conclude that typing two spaces "is inefficient, requiring an extra keystroke for every sentence."
In my sermon manuscripts I put three so I can more easily see the end of a sentence coming. In this article I have put five! I think we need to be fighting for more space, not less. Space gives us breathing room, which is another way of saying that space allows for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Did you know that the two most significant spaces in the salvation history of the Bible are the parted Red Sea and the Empty Tomb? Empty space as the supreme sign of God’s great work. J.R.R. Tolkien knew this and perhaps it had a strange effect on him one day. He told the story of correcting student essays, when he came upon a blank page among the papers. He stared at it for a moment and then wrote upon it, "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit." It just came to him like a revelation. And that's how he started his book, The Hobbit, the novel that leads into The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But for that inspiration, he needed that blank page, just a little space between all of those words.
Just a little space. The Holy Spirit can work with that. So here is an idea to consider for Lent which begins next Wednesday. I want to commend to you something radical. But it’s also simple and in some ways you might say it’s really nothing. Buy a candle and for 10 to 15 minutes every day between Ash Wednesday and Easter, go into a room where you can be quiet, light your candle, and sit there in silence. That’s it. You don’t have to say anything or do anything. Skip the candle if you like. But just sit in silence and wait for less time than it takes to accomplish most of the tasks in your day. If you need something to quiet your mind, say a simple prayer over and over, like “Lord have mercy,” or “God be with me.” You could even just pay attention to your breathing in and breathing out.
If you do that, you will find yourself wrestling with all the demons Jesus faced in the wilderness. You will hear little voices telling you what a waste of time this is. You’ll think of all the important tasks you really should be doing. You’ll even hear a voice saying that this would be much more productive time spent reading a book on prayer or the Bible. And you’ll hear a clever little voice saying that you’re really a failure at this. All of that will prove that you’re in just the right place, wrestling with the demons in you and our world—of stress, pressure, and productivity. And if you sit long enough, you’ll become aware that you are being held.
So, find a way to be quiet. And if you want to go further….then find a way to be fed—read a daily devotional, or the gospel of John a few verses at a time. Worship every Sunday and come to the beauty of evening prayer on Thursday nights. And then find a way to serve. How are you going to ease the suffering of someone who needs what you can give? A way to be quiet, a way to be fed, a way to serve. These are the simple callings of Lent. If you do any of these things, I’d love to hear what you discover.
Yours, R o s s